Mystic Autistic Artistry

Linking the idea of professing oneself to be a writer to a Judeo-Christian tradition in which naming it makes it so, Erdman commented: Like the act of fiction there’s always this sense that the faithful can remake reality based on their imaginative vision of what it could or ought to be.

The reality of fiction interests me. An imagined reality need not be an actual reality. I can remember the past even though the past is no longer actual. I can plan for the future even though the future isn’t actual yet. My own understanding or description of the actual present world is different from that world: it’s an understanding, a description, a work of the imagination. There’s always a gap between what I imagine the actual world to be and what the world actually is.

If I can acknowledge the gap between actual and imaginary, I can try to narrow the gap. I can gather evidence about the past: descriptions written when the past was still present; objects existing in the present that originated in the past; forces that traverse temporal boundaries, with the present actual state of things being regarded as but an isolated moment in a continuum stretching from past into future. In making a plan for the future I can investigate and enact the processes and intermediate states that must occur if the actual present is to be transformed into the imagined desired future. I can compare my own understanding of the actually existing world with others’ understandings and with evidence, using my findings to make my understanding conform more closely to the parameters of actuality.

In a complementary fashion, if I recognize the gap between actual and imaginary realities I can try to widen the gap. I can imagine that I was born on another planet and was secretly transported here in my infancy. I can imagine myself conducting an ongoing reconnaissance mission here on earth, periodically transmitting my findings to my home planet via alien brain waves undetectable by any human technologies. I can imagine a series of future intragalactic apocalypses precipitated by the arrival on earth of a landing party from my home planet.

I’ve imagined an alternative postcapitalistic fictional reality, a reality that isn’t actual in the present but that might become actual in the future. I’ve described this imaginary fictional reality at some length in a series of texts posted on this website. The gap is fairly wide between the proposed postcapitalistic scheme and the capitalistic actualities; at the same time, a series of bridges have been sketched out for spanning the gap from the present to the imagined future. So far those bridges too remain imaginary; the gap, unspanned.

Perhaps the easiest course would be to blow the imaginary bridges sky high. Instead of narrowing the gap, widen it — push the alternative reality further away from the actual, beyond the far fringes of the unlikely into the impossible. I recently posted an excerpt from a novel about a man “designing out of thin air the most complete and complex urban plan history had ever known”:

…while the city now stood, after fifteen years’ solid work but with no end in sight, as by far the biggest and most complex urban plan ever conceived by man or committee and which I could not help thinking, as I sipped my beer and watched, would, if he stuck at it long enough, eclipse the whole fucking world, this map of a kingdom that existed nowhere on this earth but in his head, this masterpiece with its clueless overlord, a mad king who knew nothing of the real world but was nevertheless on such intimate terms with the infinite intricacies of his own mind that he needed nothing more than a rule and pencil to draw them forth and lay them on the paper, this city as a kind of neural maze, a cognitive map which would reach out, street by street, to cover the whole world…

I could carry out a program like this, imagine a complete and complex postcapitalist fictional reality, extend its ambit infinitely and its level of detail infinitesimally, enthrone myself as its clueless overlord, document it in fifteen years’ worth of text that nobody but I would ever see. Hell, I’ve already written a book’s worth of content — plenty more where that came from. It would be a pure act of fiction, a work of mystic autistic artistry fully unhinged from actuality.

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8 thoughts on “Mystic Autistic Artistry

  1. I’ve been reading the David Foster Wallace biography. He too was intrigued by the gap between reality and imagination, via his readings of Wittgenstein, which gave DFW the distinct sense that all “reality” is pretty much in our heads, anyway.

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    1. I’ve not read Wittgenstein, but I do think there’s always an unbridgeable gap between the actual things and events of the world on one hand, and the thoughts one uses to think about those actualities and the words one uses to describe them on the other hand. In that regard all thought and language people use to make sense of the actualities, pulling them into a coherent “reality,” is fictional. However… Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote a while back when considering the relationship between descriptions of the actual and of the imaginary, between fact and fict:

      The situations and events that occur in realistic novels may correlate more closely with the actually existing world than do the fantasies and surrealities of other sorts of fiction, but they’re still not real. Some written fictions – mine, for example – incorporate descriptions of events that actually happened in real life. Still, they are only texts, passages of written language, and even the most realistic, the most prosaic prose is a phantasm, a description of something other than itself. Even nonfiction is unreal. If I were to write a precise description of the scrapes on my right knuckles and wrist from when I tripped on the slab of sidewalk while running, that description still (and obviously) is not the material reality of those scrapes themselves. Even if everyone in the world were to read my description, the unreality of the text persists.

      Suppose I were to write also a detailed description of the scabs on my left knuckles, of which at present there are none. Would this be a realistic text, even if it describes an unreal thing? Sure. Just as the real right-handed scabs are different from the text describing them, so are the unreal left-handed scabs. Here’s a difference though. I begin writing a description of the unreal scab on, say, the second joint of my left index finger. It is a triangular-shaped scab, about the size of the wart that for years lived on that same knuckle when I was a child. I must have absentmindedly picked some of the crusty dark-brown matter off of the outer edge, because the scab is now oozing whatever that watery pink fluid is called that clots over a wound. It doesn’t hurt any more, except when I make a fist; I expect it will start to itch in another day or two. Although I could have had a detailed image of this nonexistent scab in mind before I started describing it, in this case I did not. The unreal thing took shape as I was describing it – describing can be an act of creation. I can’t do that with the real scabs on my right hand. The features I emphasize and the ones I ignore, recounting how the pain and swelling have changed since the original injury, invoking clinical knowledge of the clotting process, comparing the scab on my little finger knuckle to a map of Corsica or a three-toed footprint or, as Kenzie proposes, to a hand tossing away a piece of trash, the trash being represented by another, smaller scab farther up the shaft of the finger – the descriptive possibilities are virtually limitless. But if I’m going to describe the real thing realistically, my description is constrained by the thing I’m describing.

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  2. To come back again to Christian faith, it seems that the role of the prophet was somewhat along the lines of the project you propose, minus the exhaustive Jeremiads. I get the sense that they are like you in that they push the boundary of fiction and imagination as far as they can, perhaps the better to illustrate the contrast between fiction and reality, i.e., the people have strayed quite far. The prophetic imagination, though, reached back into the past, of course, back to the Torah, an appeal to the tradition and law code that the people never seemed to quite ever 100% buy into.

    I’m not sure if there’s anything that would serve your project, in terms of something to reach back to. Perhaps it’s better to let the imagination roam, free range.

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    1. In my fictions I’ve drawn heavily on the Judeo-Christian tradition — I’d say that the Bible is my most important literary influence. Taken collectively the Biblical texts sketch out in great detail a world that’s poised ambiguously between the actual and the imaginary, between fact and myth, between substance and spirit, inviting readers to enter into that textual world and to live inside of it as an alternate reality. There’s also all of that intertextual referencing going on, making it seem as though one transcendent Mind were behind all of these diverse texts written over the span of centuries, the future seemingly known from time immemorial — sublime. Stylistically though I tend to emulate the narrator of Genesis 1-11 more than the prophets. He’s so transparent and unassuming you almost forget he’s there, even as he’s describing these legendary events. That’s how scientists tend to write too, not calling much attention to themselves, pointing toward that which they’re describing, be it fact or math or theory. I tend to restrict the florid prophetic voice to intermittent fugue states transpiring in what you’ve been calling liminal spaces.

      The Law is an intriguing sort of fictional text, presented as if it had been written in stone by the hand of God himself and brought down from the mountaintop. I like incorporating those sorts of Biblical schemes too — fictional texts that aren’t written as narrative stories but as laws, lists, genealogies, rituals, recipes…

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  3. I love it about ‘the watery pink fluid’.

    But now that you’ve been so exhaustive in your no-oblique-stone-left-unturned, isn’t it a matter of ‘what’s trending’ LOL? Because you’ve convinced me here that the ‘material reality’ is not as profound as you still think it is, or write about it as if it was. Without any language at all, it is a fiction also if fiction is what you are most passionate about (or it can’t be proven not to be, except scientifically, and what the hell use is that by now–we’re already post-science even if we can’t think of much else to do.) Your whole project here begins to breathe more, and one can look back at the long preamble with some more flexibility than at first blush seemed allowed. Much of it is very funny, and that doesn’t mean I’m trivializing it either. You know the obstacles in the way, or at least are always talking about them, but you faced white space for quite a long time, with only Erdman occasionally and Michael and ‘likes’ and writing to MFA or whoever it was you were targeting. That is itself quite admirable, because it didn’t seem to breathe that much even though it was original (as far as I know anyway.)

    So the ‘material reality’ may also be a form of fiction, may’n’t it? You may then start talking about it in the ‘automatically fictitious languages’, but for what? It’s just to pass the time. Then just throw in more 20th century talk of simulacra and the virtual and you have some of less romantic versions of physical reality. I just said that to save time.

    What I mean is somehow in reading this post and the comments, it begins to seem like Fiction is whatever it is deemed to be at any given moment. The rock may not be the same rock just because it survived JFK’s death, etc., and looks much like it did then.

    But it’s all the elaboration of the ‘non-business-model’ things with the libraries, the houses, the support of fiction writers of each other’s works, the ‘found money’ somewhere else hopefully…and it’s based on a ‘business model’ that you have to determine to be ‘fictional’ if you want the ‘non-business-model’ of the ‘post-capitalist fiction’ to be the actual, or maybe even the Real, who knows? You can’t get all Sisyphus on this even for one instant (Christ was never imperfect, we well know, so just being perfect for the rest of your life by forcing the post-capitalist fiction to be ‘material reality’ that brings in money after all…having tricked the entire publishing industry, for one thing, into ‘buying into it’, once they don’t it will cost them any actual fiat currency…hell, use bitcoin ideas, I guess–I’m too neocon and will probably prefer to perish in peace), or you’ll lose it. You have to be Priapic on a permanent basis or the ‘real world’ won’t decide your ‘fiction’ is desirable as a ‘reality’–and that’s what they’d want it to be, it’s like the way I went to Los Angeles and wrote about it, excavating ‘cine-musique’ so I could appropriate Hollywood glamour and cinema into my own being rather than going on a Universal Studios tour, which will put anyone in their lowly place–more box office patrons. Someone tried to get me to keep paying to watch ‘his movie’, and found I was, however, a tough customer.

    I’m trying to remember without looking what the other ‘objects’ in your organization are, and what always slips away is when they become conjoined with these new posts in which something like non-fiction and conversation and dialogue are produced, but which are somewhat different while still talking about ‘fiction’ and ‘living in alternate worlds’. The ‘imaginary’ of ‘being born on another planet’–can it be real if it is not actual? Erdman said ‘the act of fiction’, maybe you did too, so maybe Marketing is the inevitable, even if you’ve decided to leave out middlemen and agents and money (there has to be some kept aside, like those 401K’s you were talking about.)

    Anybody who has gotten this far in your post-capitalist fiction world deserves at least an Honorary Doctorate. I certainly know I do…

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  4. Exhaustive? This is all just preamble as you say. If this postcapitalist fiction were to be made actual, there would need to be detailed specs on editing, formatting, vetting, distributing. Some sort of organizational entity would need to be established, contracts drawn up, money flows (if any) specified, copyrights and open source rights agreed upon. Then there’s the matter of actually finding writers and books and readers to activate the apparatus.

    Trending? Not hardly. So there’s that issue: what does it take to make an alternative reality seem sufficiently attractive that people would want to enter into it and activate it? I agree that the requirement specs and design parameters aren’t going to grab attention. Eventually some version of the scheme has to be activated and invitations to participate issued. The usual approach is to run some simulations, experiments, pilot tests — small-scale implementations that smooth out the procedures while also spreading the word to more people. That’s what I’ve been hoping to do here, but it’s been difficult to find much traction. I’d hoped that walking through the specs online might clarify some first steps toward realizing this imaginary scheme.

    I have pretty well reached the end of this honorary doctorate phase — maybe another post or two before a major overhaul. But the theoretical interest is also a pragmatic one: how do imagined schemes become actual? I can write an actual novel and so can you, but what does it take to actualize a collective scheme? I’d say that current thinking leans into unplanned emergence: movements evolve without intent or planning. But clearly corporate capitalism doesn’t work that way: investment money for infrastructure and marketing is the usual formula. Can it be done without capital investment? Maybe it can be done only through firmly and visibly priapic leadership, either sticking it to the masses or encouraging everybody else to get it up too. Maybe the priapism works only at the individual level though, resisting the corporate allures by designing and executing one’s own private glamour tours. That’s what got me through several novels, but eventually I sagged; maybe I just need to get it up again, stop concerning myself with audience and collegiality.

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  5. That’s very cool. By ‘trending’ I meant it in a never-used way–literally the evolution since man’s beginning (or since the universe’s beginning). Darwinism wasn’t in full flower in the 1st c. A.D., so there was not even an ‘imaginary’ about selling it for shekels or ever bartering it. By now, there’s little else till we’ve finished with it. Aristotle was still selling in Rome, by then I guess. We grow up thinking Homer was a single person, then find out ‘he’ probably was a number (btw, there are times I think ‘The Iliad’ is the greatest work of fiction ever written, but it’s so thoroughgoing in its militarism, that’s not the ones students (at least high school students, I mean) get. It’s always ‘The Odyssey’–great, but the tension in the Iliad is just so startling and almost palpable.

    And then Aristotle and Plato and all those still ‘sell’. But not everything is understood in them as it once was. It seems strange to read about ‘God’ in Plato, for example, if you were brought up with the Bible. Because I don’t think he was talking about Poseidon, Aphrodite and Athena. A book or CD of DVD is still ‘selling’ even if you get it out of the library and don’t have to pay an overdue.

    I’m often slow to make the most obvious connections, e.g., that ‘alternate reality’ could be the same as ‘otherworldly’. It could be that the word ‘fiction’ doesn’t necessarily suggest those terms without explaining it as you have, because I think that’s one thing that hasn’t changed ‘in trending fashioning’ much: People still think mostly of novels and short stories, for example, even if it’s a Danielle Steele romance being read by a secretary on the subway (oh well, maybe 20 years ago anyway), and they call some films ‘documentaries’, but most have to be told that their favourite films are ‘fictions’, their favourite plays are fictions, and that documentaries are ‘non-fictions’. Or these ‘non-fictions’ are also ‘fictions’, as you pointed out, but in a highly specialized way–but it’s still okay to call them ‘non-fiction’, even if just to identify the subset of ‘fictions’, but it’s not arguable that most films are definitely fictions and that they are never referred to as that, and neither are docus called ‘non-fiction’, even if they say “What you are about to see is a true story.”

    I just wondered if maybe the term ‘otherworldly’ describes the ‘desirable’ you find in ‘fiction’, because at least to me, the otherworldly is closer to the phenomenon of ‘fiction beyond books or even e-books’. Someone is free to concentrate on these written fictions, but one doesn’t usually feel drawn to living in fiction or ‘living inside movies’, as I’ve often said to extend ‘cine-musique’ unless it is outlined by me or you or anyone. But the otherworldly would be a quality that would be desirable in all aspects of existence as long as there was a sense of The Mundane from which one had to escape or go insane; it could be accessible anywhere in ‘material reality’ or in works of art as traditionally defined. So that anyone’s project, however conventional or unconventional, to work ‘fiction’ ends up with some unavoidable delimiting: You may well find the irresistible attraction to the otherworldly quite in the worldly, or in something more obviously spiritual or celestial, although the celestial or supernal can refer to either.

    Well, continued best wishes on your quite elaborate project, it’s already got a lot of character, and you’ll see what it’s going to do in either that ’emergent’ option or the option with deliberate effort, pre-planned if flexible blueprint and conscious movement toward. I probably am personally sympathetic to all of it, even though ‘collective’ is probably not one of my gifts. I only have Christian to publish my occasional objectbecause I have special privileges due to our long friendship and that the first publication of his firm was the small pamphlet one that he and I did together. Beyond that, he himself is very much a part of his Art & Fiction collective, focussing on the visual arts, les vernissages, and some performance artists and outdoor ‘sculptures’. I think that, as little he reads my blog, I read his updates of new published work far less still, and never even know when there is something new to come out. But the regular artists he works with are often photographed at events they do together. Once I did go to one of his painters’ shows near SoHo here once, but that is about it. He sends me new (and ever-more-expensive) volumes of artbooks at Xmas and my birthday, but I usually just flip through them, admiring the luxury perhaps more than anything else–which he always takes very seriously, at least till, like an actor, he’s ready to shove it aside and start the next project, which is the ‘new more important’ thing.

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  6. That’s probably right about moviegoers not thinking in terms of fiction/nonfiction — these categories seem reserved for texts. I remember asking you what made your IDNYC a fiction, but I can’t recall how you replied. The formulaic frontispiece disclaimer on most novels seems disingenuous: “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.” My disclaimer: “This is a textual simulation of an alternate reality.” It’s like a landscape painting, or a portrait, or a photograph: the subject matter is something actual, but its singling out as focus of attention, the composition and framing and transport into the 2D image, together transport the subject into an aesthetic reality that’s not intrinsic to the subject in situ as encountered by the photographer. The photograph is a work of fiction.

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