ENGLISH TRANSLATION FROM
Spanish Version & Original Links –> Primera Parte & Segunda Parte
El vacío y su presión (I & II)
December 10 & 17, 2015
Correo del Sur: Puño y Letra (Sucre/Bolivia)
Pier Marton in conversation with Alex Aillón Valverde
[Around an Urgent Insignificance]
— for those traumatized travelers that can predict the end —
We are publishing here both parts of an extensive conversation with the French American thinker, Pier Marton, who was visiting Bolivia a few months ago.
Marton, whose works have been exhibited in such important places as MoMA in New York, spoke to us of the School of No Media (or school of unlearning). Marton reflects upon the continual confrontation between culture, philosophy, our existential problems and the modern world.
Question. What is the essence of the School of No Media? Could you define some of its central principles?
Answer. Since I am part of society, I do speak… but I am afraid that this will be just another set of words. At their core, words are frozen experience and as such monuments, they function as mere reference points. No matter what others may say, we remain bound by our life’s path. Clearly for me, what follows does not represent ideas but stands for a lived-through experience — something which by definition can neither be communicated nor argued with.
The topic at hand is oblivion or, to put it another way, I am addressing the self in time. Let’s begin there.
The self. Its design and pattern are clear: we are born neither with distinct boundaries, concepts nor individuation, and it is by becoming somebody that one crowns a successful education — self-distinction, self-inflation are inculcated from the start.
In time. Youth assumes that life is endless — only when confronted with death does the passage of time becomes palpable. To age is to understand that a fundamental letting go is required. At that stage though the amount to unload, what needs to be unlearned, is beyond our grasp…
Q. Could the School of No Media challenge all of this?
A. In order to have a voice — even though so much exists outside these boundaries — one is required both to have a narrative and to make sense; what follows lies beyond any of this.
I should mention that I belong to Abraham’s ancient iconoclastic tradition and that this is only one way to react to our boundless arrogance.
Filled to the brim with arbitrariness and antiquated concepts, our lives are a giant hoax; an ubiquitous lie where, as in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, The Emperor’s Clothes, we all need to encounter the type of child that screams out “The emperor is naked!”— a shout to be repeated over and over so that, like in an endless earthquake, we would live in constant surprise with shock and amazement for lifelong companions.
Being nothing but one of the smallest point in the universe — and knowing infinitely little — with one belief battling the next one, we still manage to brandish gloriously the narcissistic trophy of our minuscule bubble of knowledge.
Even if I were to bring up our underlying trust and belief in words or how today we are supposed to submit to some kind of “eternal-now-of-novelty-and-youth,” I don’t see what I present here is as a form of anti-cultural activity.
Civilization as a whole produces a deafening disturbance we remain unconscious of until the end of our lives. In many ways, what is being discussed here corresponds to the very same silence that Rimbaud and Gauguin may have experienced through their exiles, or through death’s notorious silence — the one that cools our passions for being possessed by what we think we possess. It is obvious that to speak of silence is as futile as it is ridiculous, yet to face death is such an essential and rare conversation that I feel compelled to proceed.
I need to underline also that to say anything is to transform and reduce the richness of reality into mere words. Furthermore, a discussion is difficult because too often we are forced to play the game of comprehension and that of practicality — two of the most important myths of the existing paradigm.
As we get to face “The Big Silence,” it becomes clearer and clearer that most of our existence consists primarily of distractions and addictions. In that sense it becomes vital to unlearn and, in ways related to Ivan Illich’s unlearning efforts and to Seven Up‘s Uncola campaign in the 70’s, the School functions in that particular “deschooling process.”
A few of the key elements for the School of No Media
1. Our lives without us.
It is often at the expense of the community around us that we occupy our own space. With its ceaseless yearning for fullness, the ego is insatiable and brings about a particularly dangerous form of theft.
At times though, during encounters with death or, in less tragic ways, when we feel dwarfed by our surroundings, radical changes can take place… and then, we may feel like nothing. At the edge of the Grand Canyon, in the presence of such a large stretch of time and space, we can perceive ourselves as unbelievably minuscule points in time, and infinitely insignificant. Only then does it seem possible to see how our bodies and our daily existence function as major obstacles in freeing ourselves and connecting with the underlying void that awaits us forever.
2. The difficulty of the present.
All that ever takes place in our lives takes place now and in that sense the School offers neither escape route nor solution.
We are held hostage by many concepts such as hope, progress and the future, our desires, our aspirations — including our fears, the search for solutions and answers, looking for meaning and the need to be consoled… an infinite number of ways to remain absent to the present. As difficult as it is to be here, the present is our present.
3. Reality beyond beliefs.
The School of No Media is an attempt to reach “what there is” — but beyond the bounds of our common beliefs, our blind spots, and the lures we create. For example, one of the most basic belief tells us exactly what is there and what is happening — but reality exists independently of ourselves and our assumptions. We expand a great many efforts in fleeing reality (and this interview too could be another distraction).
4. The (adhesive) cohesion of education.
The social contract is cemented through beliefs and myths composed of (self-referential) circular definitions, tautologies and redundancies — the long list includes: culture (as a bubble and a cult), individuality and the ego (our feelings and our interpretations), understanding, the sense of belonging (nationality, races, religions, genes…), specialization, causality and karma, love and sentimentality, normalcy and centrality, our concepts of the absolute and perfection, the fine arts (as sensorial schools of seduction and charm, as well as ghettos and style – I am not speaking of Goya!)… All of this forms blocks of concrete where one can only live in a prescribed manner — the saddest part being how enamored we are with our knowledge, a type of cement.
5. To lie and to die.
Every moment we are both living and dying: it is a reality so complex that we cannot utter anything without lying. Thus, in order to remain in the present, permanent implosions become necessary. As in the classic (49 second) film by the Lumière brothers, The Sprinkler Sprinkled, we inhabit an endless joke.
6. Our great self-love and fetishism, two large noises.
— To be lost is an art that allows us to live our questions without having to resolve them… yet the following noises prevent us from getting a clear reception of reality.
6a. The sound of ourselves.
As if were the center of our universe, we are very much in love with ourselves and so full of ourselves and what we know: the sound of fetishism — the redundant activity of listening to our very own voices, in a great variety of ways.
6b. The sound of our walls and our tools.
To celebrate and reinforce our sense of existing (having a life), we use a myriad of systems and components. Even if at times images, sounds, music and words point towards a more encompassing reality, many times these open the way to creating more images, more sounds and more music and the whole process becomes an end in itself — a form of unconscious materialistic self-propagation.
7. The small reality (off the charts).
Beyond the beaten path, where “nothing happens,” there is much that is barely noticed. The presence of presence — a being-with, no matter what — is part of a list that includes gratefulness, kindness, the silence of trees and animals, that of the wind, what I would describe as “inner smiles,” and the unfathomable injustice and murders that surround us. Finally, scientific research and the discovery of music can function similarly as other powerful means not to inflate our egos.
The writer Primo Levi spoke of parallel efforts when he warned us to be wary of political speeches and their many promises: “It is better to content oneself with other more modest and less exiting truths, those one acquires painfully, little by little and without shortcuts, with study, discussion, and reasoning, those that can we verified and demonstrated.”
Q. You have told me many times that this is not a school and that you teach whomever listens to you, but who do you want to listen to you? Who is your audience in a world as fragmented as ours?
A. The things that can exist without any name have a reality of their own, and without any restrictions, are more alive. If we speak of the school, I could say that it does not really have a name, or that it is only a website or an art project, or define it as a living metaphor, but it is likely that it is only names and definitions that provoke reactions.
It is called “school” because our leading paradigm proclaims that we have things to learn and that experience can be transmitted; these tenacious beliefs are difficult to relinquish.
Having my artistic work presented in important museums like the MoMA, the Carnegie Museum and the Walker Art Center, was very important and pleasurable but it also proved to me that the artistic world (even through its major institutions) functions as a small isolated community, like a bubble.
I don’t know who wants to listen to me — to swim against the flow is not a popular activity, and if I sell anything, it is silence and nothingness — maybe it is “the community that uses Google” (those looking for something!); I have had visitors from 101 countries, a kind of bottle in the ocean that produces a myriad of surprises.
Q. What type of revolution is implied in the School of No Media? Does it promote any change of ideas in our ways to think and our attitudes?
A. It is only those unique ideas that we discover while living that can be called new and ours. The School seeks ways to be alone and be lost, and to live in an incredulous state as a truly independent mind. Otherwise all we do is regurgitate old experiences: we love what repeats itself because it provides us with a sense of safety. One can perceive this in the rhythms of music and poetry [addendum: the holidays], and every time we are delighted to find recurring patterns.
It may be possible to apply these principles in small ways in the political realm but all speeches come with many simplifications and lies.
It is clear that I sell nothing, and if I use words here, it is only to point in certain directions.
Finally, as with most fundamental changes, no one can see anything!
Q. What about language: what is it for you? What type of language must one seek to stir up any kind of lucidity in such a confusing world? Is there anything beyond words? And beyond communication systems?
A. What the poet, W.H. Auden, reveals to me with his provocative celebration that “Poetry makes nothing happen.” is that when all is said and done, all that is added is a particular layer, a singular noise… and if silence and language were to be put side to side, for me it is clear who would win.
It is a fact that when poetry and novel-writing are at their very best, with the oblique intelligence of their paradoxes, their refinements and their passion, they can become most compelling. One should not forget either those perilous writers who venture into the abyss, willing to fall. Yet in the end, language is a giant filter, a way to play various clever games and lies — in the best case, like fingers pointing towards our deficiencies and a bigger reality.
It should be evident that when something tragic takes place, words are failing us. Those crises contain a form of wisdom and clarity which would be good to apply during our “normal” states — not only during those dramatic transitions, when we don’t know what is happening.
We actually never know what is happening and, in finding speech inadequate, words should always fail us.
If we pay attention to two major thinkers, Edgar Morin (The Complexity) and Arne Naess (Deep-Ecology), it is obvious that our words and our eyesight contain fatal limitations: when a disaster becomes tangible and visible, it is too late.
It is a pity that experience cannot be communicated: if only we could perceive words as problematic references to another time-zone, and nothing more.
Burroughs said that language is a virus… In that sense we need a form of vaccination against words and all of the other medias (a form of permanent elementary distrust). To combat culture’s hegemony which functions like fly and fly-paper, Brecht’s distancing principle can be of help. Also at the very least, as a form of “hidden guerrillero,” we need to create constant internal explosions, and if possible, go further with language implosions (cf. Socrates’ “If I know anything it is that I know nothing” or Zen’s koans). And to be overwhelmed by the furor of silence.
What lies behind words? As I say earlier, the most important things remain buried within us. Words are only a form of noise (Artaud speaks of us making signs through the flames).
Q. We encounter reality in its fullness. How does reality empty itself? Do you agree that we need to construct a desert to start the walk?
A. Yes, we do encounter a full reality, but by being superimposed with countless cliches, myths and concepts, this artificial sense of plenitude actually generates an impoverished experience. In this way, the past prevents us from the presence of the present time and from perceiving reality: society and its educational system have produced a package, sealed to such an extent that it creates a separation, an alienation between us and “what is.”
Most of the time, culture functions as a cult that maintains itself through an overall negation, negating in particular any trace of raw pain and death in order to remain protected in what is known and comfortable.
As the linguist, Lakoff, described in his spirited book, Don’t Think Like An Elephant, the seeds of meaning (and order) impose themselves upon our thinking to take root in ways that are very hard to fight against.
I agree with you when you say that there is another plenitude that stems out of the desert. We are speaking here of someone who has lost everything, with enough room to accept others and what there is. Still with our tendency to survive at any price, we make many compromises. In that sense, generally it is only the disasters that allow us to access that vital desert.
That essential path gets closest to reality, like an asymptote, only towards the end (in the same way, I always thought that the true avant-garde is death).
To finish, we cannot speak of the desert without remembering Hans-Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. With its simplicity it reminds us that, in spite of all of our words and our fine arts, we may remain absolutely naked forever.
PIER MARTON IN A FEW WORDS
Pier Marton’s audio-visual work is significant enough to be found in such places as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Paris Beaubourg Museum and the National Gallery of Canada in Toronto. He has received recognition and numerous grants among which the National Endowment for the Arts and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. He has taught at various major universities like U.C.L.A., U.C. San Diego, Carnegie Mellon, Penn State and Washington University.
Much of his work has focused on society’s blind spot and violence and its representations. Presently he is the Unlearning Specialist at the School of No Media. Pier Marton is one of those most active and interesting thinkers today. It is during his visit to Sucre that he became involved with Bolivian culture. One can delve deeper into his thinking through the following websites: Pier Marton & School of No Media.
Even if it is true, it is false. Henri Michaux