Endingness was a three-part project developed for an exhibition entitled Swan Song in April of 2005, at Julia Friedman Gallery in New York. The project consisted in the publication of an essay on the art of memory [ full text below], an exhibition with the transcription of this text in wax tablets, and an orchestral composition which was performed on the day of the opening.
Performance of “Endingness” at Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, February 2013
Prolegomena for a New Art of Memory
There may be a deep connection between that conceptual field [of perspective] and the way that perspective has continually presented itself to me in terms of the philosophic and historical concept of proof (the demonstration) , the unruly gestures of artistic application (the play) and the intricacies of perspectival methods themselves (the arcanum).
James Elkins, The Poetics of Perspective
Sitiado en mi epidermis por un dios inasible que me ahoga
José Gorostiza, Muerte sin fin
For my father, Luis Ignacio Helguera Soiné
On a daily basis, we are aware of things that come to an end, ranging from the holiday seasons to species in extinction, the lives of others around us, and our very own life. Yet, for all we understand and even praise the notion of change in the world we live in, we are generally reluctant to embrace the definite ending of things. We work hard to defy the aging process, we maintain written memories and historical documentation of every sort, and we create a rhythm and a routine in our lives that allow us to feel that we live in a continuum, and not in an ever-ending sequence of events.
This book deals with a phenomenon that, as I will put forth in the next few pages, results from an introspective state in our mind. It can be shared collectively and become the basis of a cultural language. And, its use and manipulation is usually a key basis for creativity.
A work that deals mostly with the notion of endings and conclusions would perhaps beg the question: why not rather focus on the beginning of things? A focus on endings would appear to be unnecessarily bleak and pessimistic to most readers. My response would be that it is precisely the uneasiness that we have regarding endings that is worthy of a close examination. We are not ever as conflicted about the beginning of something as we are about its ending – most concretely, when we speak about things like human life: a birth is a cause for celebration, while death is a cause for mourning. Because of this very discomfort, and the complex array of reflections and feelings that accompany our experience of endings, it is important to understand just what is that causes those responses. As I will try to show on these pages, the answer is related to our sense of identity provided by our memory. Most importantly, it is this unusual compression of emotions that take place when we respond to the ending of something that feed our creativity and help us summarize and affirm our current relationship with our world, because they let us, as we commonly say, “see things in perspective”. In a world where the excess of information and the relativization of every fact have made thinking with clarity ever more difficult, it is at least worth the effort to examine the cognitive process by which we assimilate and interpret that information that becomes most definitive and conclusive in our minds: the ending of things.
No theory on endings should start without addressing the very concept of the end of things, contained in the universal, unavoidable, and yet very problematic, term “death”. It is not possible, nor pertinent to the purpose of this book, to engage in a philosophical overview of the concept of death. It should suffice by establishing three aspects about our relationship with death that are relevant to the particular phenomenon we are analyzing.
The first one, which may be self-evident, is that death normally connotes the opposition of life. Yet, we can say that our prospect of death, not its actuality, is what dominates our lives. At a personal level, the actualization of death that we perceive on a daily basis in the world serves as a reminder that we, too, shall die sometime. This actualization, as some Existentialist philosophers would agree, is what defines our lives. The concept of death is thus contained not solely on the act of dying in it of itself but in all the processes that take us to it, including our witnessing of the deaths of others.
Secondly, the concept of death manifests itself in a myriad of metaphorical ways in our every day life. We usually speak of “the death of art” or “the death of utopias” in an abstract sense, denoting the extinction of concepts, or even things: “my computer died”. Death is thus embedded in actual life as a common expression that references the ending of all kinds of circumstances and things.
The third idea is that death paradoxically affirms continuity. Because of its certainty, we are given a clear picture of the world- it is the only one thing that we can be absolutely certain will happen. We don’t know if we will continue to live, but we can be certain that we will all continue to die. The notion of life as a succession of deaths was a constant metaphor in poetry every since the Renaissance. Francisco de Quevedo, the XVIIth Century Spanish poet, may have best put it in a famous poem:
Ayer se fue; mañana no ha llegado;
hoy se está yendo sin parar un punto:
soy un fue, y un será, y un es cansado.
En el hoy y mañana y ayer, junto
pañales y mortaja, y he quedado
Presentes sucesiones de difunto.
Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not here yet
Today is fading away, unstoppable:
I am a “was”, and a “will be”, and a tired “ is”.
Between the today and the tomorrow
Diapers and mortuary cloth, I am left
As present successions of a dead man.
This sense of continuity that death provides, as well as the heightened awareness that it provokes about reality when it happens is what concerns us here.
This work borrows ideas from perspectivism, cognitive psychology, phenomenology, evolutionist theory, neuroscience, art history, religion, and cultural studies to propose the use of a consciousness level in the mind that, with the aid of the ancient art of memory, can be systematized for the purpose of artistic practice- one that constitutes an integrated practice of philosophical and artistic responses to the world we experience.
To construct my argument, I have adopted James Elkins’ three-way division on the idea of perspectivist practices: demonstration, play, and arcanum, as explained on chapter 2. Entering into the theoretical realm of a perspectival art of perspective is like entering into a hall of mirrors, where by definition the explanation is the artwork and the artwork is the reflection of that explanation. This book is thus necessarily treated like an art work within the presentation of an exhibition on the subject of endingness, entitled Swan Song- which also included the presentation of a musical piece, a documentary on memory, and other self-reflective and self-referential works on finitude.
The reader may now be forewarned that this doesn’t aspire to be, nor should try to ever be, an academic essay on psychology, philosophy, or even art criticism. Instead, it hopes to bring to light ideas that are usually not addressed by other conventional academic formats. Through rather unorthodox associations and arbitrary methods that honor the Arcana component of the perspectivist tradition, I have attempted to articulate a suspicion that I have had since I can remember: the connection that I believe to exist between that feeling described by those who see their lives going by before their minds when they have the certainty of death, and the emotional response that we have when we see the ending of a moving film. Ultimately, this book is not about death, but about birth- the mystery of regeneration of emotions that are inspired by the encounter with something that departs.
1. On Swan Songs
“When feeling life departing, the swan lifts high its head, and breaking into a long, melodious chant–a heart-rending song of death–the noble bird sends heavenward a melodious protest, a plaint that moves to tears man and beast, and thrills through the hearts of those who hear it.” [i]
The belief that swans sing an achingly beautiful song before they die goes back to ancient times.
Plato, Aristotle, Euripides, Philostratus, Cicero, Seneca, and Martial believed in this as a fact,
while Pliny, Aelian, and Athenaeus, among the ancients, and Sir Thomas More among the moderns, treated this opinion as a
vulgar error. The reference can even be found in Shakespeare:
If you do love me, you will find me out.
Let music sound, while he doth make his choice:
Then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end,
Fading in music.[ii]
It is not clear when the idea of the singing swan originates. One Greek legend has it that the soul of Apollo, the god of music passed into a swan, hence a Pythagorean fable that the souls of all good poets passed into swans.[iii] The Aberdeen manuscript, a medieval bestiary from the XIIth Century, says the following about the swan: “The swan is called Cygnus, from its singing; it pours forth the sweetness of song in a melodious voice. They say that the swan sings so sweetly because it has a long, curved neck; inevitably, a voice forcing its way through a long, flexible passage produces a variety of tones. They say, moreover, that in the far north, when bards are singing to their lyres, large numbers of swans are summoned by the sound and sing in harmony with them.”[iv] Despite the fact that, in contrast to other impossible to prove myths, there have always been plenty of swans around to test to refute this belief, and yet the conviction of the singing swan managed to survive well into the Nineteenth Century.
For some mythologists, the story of the swan may not qualify exactly as a myth: in general terms, myths are supposed to explain natural phenomena or relate to the creation. But if we were favor Levi-Strauss’ interpretation, who thought that a myth is a way for societies to explain an otherwise irresolvable contradiction, the swan song could be then interpreted as a myth that stands as the metaphor of something more complex.
The power of the swan song legend lies, I believe, in two things: one is the powerful contrast of a beautiful and pure being touched by death – an idea that is prevalent in a wide variety of Western stories and poems using similar characters (dead princesses, children, etc.). So, In Levi-Strauss terms, the contradiction that this story may be reinforcing would be the one of untimely or unfair death, or perhaps, the early corruption of that which is yet uncorrupted and innocent. The second aspect of this belief is that the drama of the being’s death is further heightened by its ability to sing a beautiful song before it departs forever. This second aspect of the belief is far more complex an open to interpretation than the first one. Why would a beautiful song may arise from the facing of death? According to one of Aesop’s fables, the unfairly caught swan sings a farewell to life:
A Swan Sings To Save Her Life
A wealthy man once kept a goose
And swan together at his house,
The goose to be a feast some day,
The swan, to sing songs for his spouse.
One moonless night he sent the cook
To catch the goose and dinner make,
But in the dark the cook misjudged,
And brought the swan in by mistake.
That swan soon realized her fate
And let her broken heart be known
“Goodbye, sweet earth! Goodbye, sweet friends!”
She sang: one long despairing tone.
Stop! cried the cook, My heart is broke!
This poor swan’s song my soul doth wring!
I’ll get that other bird for food,
And let this swan live on to sing!
So swan lived on for years and years
Enjoying tasty meals and snacks,
And sang her sad and lovely song —
Whenever they brought out the ax.
In Aesop’s fable, the music sung by the swan before it dies symbolically saves it from vanishing definitely. Although the moral of the story falls more within the area of “sharing your feelings may save you”, the idea of singing as a defense to dying goes in accord to the old convention of what great art does: it becomes a symbolic antidote to mortality. According to this idea, we will all vanish at some point, but those artistic creations that we make may ultimately save us from oblivion. (ars longa, vita brevis).
I would thus like to propose that the swan song symbol is not the casual result of an old legend, or just another commonplace phrase that is used in many aspects of contemporary lexicon, but rather a revealing metaphor that we all relate to but that we don’t know how to fully explain. It describes our attitude about one of the most mysterious intersections: creativity and death. And it is this very intersection that concerns us here.
2. With the End in Sight
Death is naturally one of the most ubiquitous subjects in art; it is present in every period and in every genre. Given that such a vast territory would be practically impossible to address in a single essay, what I will focus on in this text will not be on those countless visual representations of death itself but rather in one of the basic metaphorical representations of finitude, or, in other words, integrated philosophical and visual representation of “that which ends”. Within the context of the modern Western tradition, this logical departure point to me and what historically could be argued as the basic metaphorical visual representation of the end is the vanishing point in Renaissance perspective.
We well know that the notion of perspective in the visual arts, which was arguably the greatest contribution of the Renaissance, was originally conceived by Brunnelleschi and other Italian artists as an aiding tool to create a more correct-looking visual representation, generating in a variety of forms and methods. Nevertheless, from its very inception, the use of perspective in the Renaissance also came to symbolize a variety of subjects, such as infinity, death, corruption and melancholy. [v] Soon the idea of perspective, as well as its actual application, become two separate, or maybe correlated, things that have been analyzed by art historians, philosophers, and cultural theorists.
Hubert Damisch, in his book L’origine de la Perspective, provides the most comprehensive argument about the inextricable relation between the visual representation of perspective in the Renaissance and Western thought. He relates perspective to the theories of thinkers of the likes of Edmund Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Claude Levi-Strauss and Lacan.
The relationship between visual perspective and philosophy is a complex subject that gets particularly difficult as the literal and metaphorical use of perspective vary widely in interpretation and across the ages. In this area I found great guidance in James Elkins’ The Poetics of Perspective, perhaps the most thorough study on the history of perspectival theory and the metaphorical dimensions of perspective. In this work, Elkins studies the relationship between the techné of perspective and its metaphorical uses in philosophy. The obscure theorizing of this art is referenced by Elkins as the arcanum while its application is known as the play. The philosophical use of it, on the other hand, (the demonstration), is generally used as a metaphor (like in Heidegger and the existentialists) or as a symbol of a cultural worldview (Panofsky).
These models of perspectivism usually depart form existing visual applications of perspectival methods, and the subsequent metaphorization of those methods into the fields of philosophy, cultural theory, psychology, etc. We all are familiar with perspectival metaphors as indicators of thinking, and use them on an everyday basis: “in my view”; “now that we have some perspective on the facts”, etc.
It is not surprising that perspective would become a way for us to map ideas. In the same way that perspective became a way to “rationalize sight” (as termed by William Ivins in an influential 1939 essay), we needed to find a way to “rationalize the sight” of our own mind as we entered into highly abstract territories. And, in a similar way to the uses of early perspective in the Renaissance and beyond, perspectival visualization of ideas can be helpful to render thought with greater clarity, but it can also distort it.
These two parallel evolutions of the practice of perspective –philosophically as a model to map ideas, and artistically as a method to represent space – really become separate matters practically from the invention of perspective. In painting, perspective continued to be used as a spatial drawing method, but its use as a metaphor could only be found perhaps in rarified works with allegorical meanings. In the XXth Century, the use of perspective in the visual arts constitutes just one more standard strategy of representation, -or distortion of reality- but hardly anything that goes beyond themes of visual perception. As they broke with the conventional notions of the picture-plane, the artists of modernity couldn’t see any place for Renaissance perspective in the work- with the exception of those who remained true to figurativism. But even then, perspective had long stopped being a source for metaphorical representation.
The development of the second practice, which is the idea of perspective as an intellectual metaphor- perhaps we can call it conceptual perspective– has a longer story and practice in contemporary thinking, including the everyday usage that we give to it. It could be argued that, beginning with Duchamp, visual arts abandon the traditional notions of perspective in order to rather employ a sort of conceptual perspective- the artwork looking at itself, and affirming its own reality, instead of simply creating a visual approximation in the two-dimensional surface of how we see the world. Most of the art originated after conceptualism is art that acquires a certain self-awareness of its condition of artwork.
Whenever we talk about “the end of art” today, we could say that have arrived at a point of exhaustion with “conceptual” perspective- a point that seems very similar to the way in which the interest in visual perspective also arrived to at the end of the XIXth Century. This exhaustion would follow the reasoning that if we have exhausted the visual representations of art and then exhausted the ideas around it, we have little left to explore.
A way to address this problem may lie, I believe, in a thorough review on the interrelation of conceptual and visual perspectivist theories. Elkins’ essay, toward the end, lists the ways in which we himself divides the perspectival practices: “some thoughts (the demonstrations) appear logical, scientific, or historical, and others (the play) seem to pertain to rhetoric or poetry, or else (the arcanum) to the obscurities to what I called the intellectual backwaters”.
If, as Elkins implies in the quote at the beginning of his book, the three aspects of perspective are related, a unified application whose practice is rooted on a philosophical and practical grounds would constitute, if not a more complete representation of our reality, certainly a new way to integrate ideas and images together. Conceptual art proposed a framework in which an idea would precede, and sometimes override, the visual representation of an object.
Elkins states in his book the conflicts that arise by creating a theory of perspective:
When Panofsky writes about Greek perspective as if it were the expression of the subjective world and Renaissance perspective as if it were the record of an objective world, he is recalling the inherent paradox of philosophic perspectivism (that it cannot choose between the world as an objective whole and views as subjective fragments) and reapplying it to its original source, artistic perspective. It is that cycling involvement that should warn us that perspective cannot even see itself: it is blind- that is, no perspective from which we can see perspective.
The paragraph well illustrates the ongoing frustration with theory by constructing an accurate, scientific representation of reality. But what happens when art making, by virtue of becoming both the theory itself as the artwork as well as the byproduct of its theory? Since art is not ruled by scientific method, can it be more successful at providing a more accurate representation of experience? Furthermore, what process would allow us to encounter a full integration of ideas and images?
What we will consider here is the possibility of thinking just in that way, in an artistic sense, thinking about artworks that are, at the same time, a visual and conceptual metaphor of perspective, a perspectival method for self-representation in time both conceptually and visually, and a philosophical meditation on our existential location in the world – a perspectivizational vehicle- for any viewer.
In other words, an art of memory that is able to provide, in their own introspection, a perspective of perspective itself.
3. The Art of Memory and the Dream of Total Vision
We often think about the production of images and the production of ideas as two separate things. This has been so prevalent in contemporary thought that, during the rise of Conceptual art, the dominance of the idea consumed the value of the image to an extent that more often than not it made the latter dependent, if not secondary, on the idea behind it – or, rather, the ideas that we could take from it.
In the previous chapter, we discussed the disjunction between philosophical and artistic perspectivism. While one collapses in the construction of an objective basis for truth, the other recedes as an obsolete method to portray the world. Both suffer from what has been described as the rigidity of perspectivism- the fact that perspectives necessarily impose one single point of view, and have a hard time adapting to an ever-evolving process of constant reinterpretation, recreation and readaptation. Additionally to this rigidity, there is the problem of how ideas can bring us to sensible pictures of the world, and vice versa- which is the ever-present divide between theory and practice.
There is, however, an ancient technique based on natural cognitive processes that naturally brought together ideas and images. It originated around 500 B.C. with Simonides of Ceos, a Greek poet. According to the legend, Simonides was one day attending a party with many guests. At some point he stepped out of the house, and it so happened that the ceiling of the room fell at that moment, crushing all the guests under it. All the guests were defaced beyond recognition, but Simonides was able to identify each and every one of them by virtue of knowing where each one of them was sitting. It thus occurred to him that his ability to remember lied on being able to visualize the placement of the person in his mind. Based on this realization, Simonides founded the art of memory upon a premise that became the core principle of every memory method down the ages: “constat igitur artificiosa memoria ex locis et imaginibus” (artificial memory is established by the conjunction of places and images). This phrase, first found in the earliest surviving memory treatise Ad Herennium, was later developed by Cicero and Quintillian in Roman times, with the purpose of memorizing long texts and developing oratorial skills.
The basis for the art of memory would consist in that the speaker would imagine an architectural space with several rooms where he would place different associative images related to the different parts of the text that he had to memorize.
Ad Herennium’s characterization of the process of imagination and retrieval and the language of symbols to be used – some based on visual systems like the zodiac – became the basis for further Western models of mnemonic systems.
The art of memory was indeed a learning method, but one that was directly related to natural processes that we all employ to remember. However, while it was in vogue, this system was not only limited to recalling information. It was used also by mystics, philosophers and Hermetists to construct complex systems of knowledge that would be condusive to revealing divine truths. Hermetic practitioners of the art of memory like Giulio Cammillo, Raymundo Lull, and later on Robert Fludd, and most importantly Giordano Bruno, shared the cabalistic view that creation is a combinatory act (ars combinatoria), a process of multiplication by endless permutation of the revealed, divine attributes of the Sephiroth. In this view the universe is nothing but a construction of structural analogies and correspondences that follows the laws of logic and harmonic proportions. Combinatory charts and diagrams included universal subjects, absolute principles, and various sort of pointers that were direct conduits to God. Geometric relationships were central in the diagrams of the mnemonists, and the kind of imagery that emerged from memory systems, treatises, and spiritual texts tended to be highly extravagant and imaginative in construction.
The art of memory, along with the Hermetic tradition, would not fare very well after the Reinassance. Cartesianism, as well as other philosophical trends that praised objective observation and logical thinking, soon dismissed these ways of thinking about the world as obscure and outmoded, and belonging to a medieval mentality. Whenever referenced in scholarly texts, the art of memory would be generally regarded with condescendence.
The art of memory did continue its existence, however, as part of the Hermetic tradition, mostly through individual practitioners well into the end of the XVIIth century. Hermetism gathered force again towards the middle of the XIXth Century in the works of artist like William Blake and later in other occult practices like Theosophy. Hermetism is amongst the foundational roots of our modern philosophies of living that we usually term as New Age, trying to find secret correlations between the mind, the body and the spirit.
Perhaps because of this eccentric genealogy, it has been traditionally hard to regard the art of memory as a serious practice. And indeed as one reviews the history of the art of memory, it becomes clear why its original purposes of memorization and knowledge of the occult are certainly not of much interest to us today as scientific practices, other than as curiosity items. Nevertheless, when the art of memory receded into obscurity at the dawn of the modern age, we lost sight of a key tradition of image fabrication that only intuitively was recovered by contemporary art and that, has hardly been recognized again as a fertile artistic ground.
While the occult became disconnected from science many centuries ago, art making never lost that link, nor have we been able to fully discredit the notion that art has the cabbalistic- like qualities to communicate hidden things. Despite the conceptualist revolution, and the very demystification, dematerialization, and deconstruction of the object, art remains mysterious to us as we were never able to eliminate the unquantifiable value of subjectivity. As much as we will always know the value of 5, art will never retain the same value or definition, because that is dependent on personal interpretation.
Alchemical relationships had always been a fascination to XXth Century artists, including the Surrealists, Duchamp, and even Joseph Beuys[vi]. Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle is another example of artwork that replicates similar systems of hidden relationships between themes and elements that is so common of Hermetic thought.
In what directly concerns the art of memory, certainly lots of art have been made about remembrance, memory, and commemoration. Nevertheless, it is only now when the relevance of this practice as a method of visualization is being rediscovered.
Fluxus artist Dick Higgins made significant inroads when he edited Giordano Bruno’s On the Composition of Images, Signs & Ideas[vii]. Higgins, a true multi-disciplinary artist and art theorist, was fascinated by Bruno’s all-encompassing thought, as noted in his introduction to this book: “Bruno argues for the unity of all the arts in a way that suggests 19th Century ideas about synesthesia or 20th Century ones about intermedia. . . the convergence of poetry, prose and visual art, is of interest today also, and it is noteworthy that Bruno provides a historic paradigm for this.”[viii] Bruno was also rediscovered as a predecessor to modern semiotics, by writing phrases such as “images do not receive their names from the explanations of the things they signify, but rather from the condition of those things that do the signifying”
Bruno’s thoughts which have been studied for semiotics and for inter-disciplinarity, have nevertheless their greater root in his memory systems- a result perhaps of his training as a Renaissance rhetorician, of which he said: “In them finally are all that can be said, known, imagined; here are all arts, languages, works, and signs”.
An example of the relevance of the art of memory in our contemporary way of visualizing lies in the work of Giulio Camillo Delminio. Camillo, known during his lifetime as one of the most important thinkers, had devised a memory theater where all the human and divine knowledge could be attained by an average human being, including the various revelations of the kabala, Jewish mysticism, the Bible and the classical world. The secret of how it worked would be revealed only to the king of France. Camillo had based his utopian structure of knowledge on a memory system, by which 49 main images would contain the totality of knowledge. Camillo’s theater was never built due to lack of funding, but the idea of his project survived with a text written by him, L’idea del Teatro. The remarkable aspect of Camillo’s theater were not the intricacies of his incredibly complicated and esoteric mnemonic system, but his attempt to construct what we could term today as a virtual interface for all the databases of knowledge available – a problem that only became relevant again in the information age[ix]. After many centuries of remaining in the obscurity, Camillo has reemerged in the contemporary era and is today hailed by many as the first person to conceive the internet.
By this point, one could rightly ask: do these Renaissance ideas only happen to resonate with the zeitgeist of contemporary life, or do they reveal more profound affinities between the intellectual crisis of our age and the dawn of modern thought? On another essay one could perhaps argue that the state of confusion created by the information age, and the relativism caused by our inability to grasp the complexities of our contemporary era, and our consumption of personality cult of celebrities and relate to others through reality shows and the lives of movie stars bring us back to a similar moment to the one of the mid 1500s, where the human being became a microcosm of the world.
The great scholar Frances Yates summarized the way in which Giordano Bruno and Giulio Camillo reflected the mind of the Renaissance: “the memory systems of Camillo and Bruno […] exhibit a profound conviction that man, the image of the greater world, can grasp, hold and understand the greater world through the power of his imagination”[x]. Yates also adds: “From a lower power which may be used in memory as a concession to weak man who may use corporeal similitudes because only so he can retain his spiritual intentions towards the intelligible world beyond appearances through laying hold of significant images”[xi].
Whether or not there may be a parallelism between us and Bruno and Camillo’s time, I believe there is much to recover from the artistic arena from Hermetic thought. And, although we would not necessarily have to condone the obscure -and perhaps naïve- practices of occult philosophy that once fueled the art of memory, there is one fundamental principle in its foundation that still rings true today: the potential power of the human imagination. Like Bruno wrote in his Corpus Hermeticum:
“Make yourself grow to a greatness beyond measure, by a bound free yourself from the body; raise yourself above all the time, become eternity […] believe that nothing is impossible to you, think yourself immortal and capable of understanding all, all arts, all sciences, the nature of every being […] if you embrace in your thought all things at once, times place substances, qualities, quantities, you may understand God”.[xii]
Bruno was certainly ambitious in his desire to know it all- although this was a common trait at the time. Today, we may not aspire to obtain the entire knowledge of the universe- we have enough by trying to understand ourselves, and yet while this still seems to prove to be extremely difficult, few could deny that the overwhelming nature of the modern world drives most of us today to hold on to the immediate- the most immediate being the personal, the most personal being our memories, and the most intense of those experiences, those connected to death.
4. The Heideggerian Consciousness
Martin Heidegger thought that civilization had suffered a gradual “forgetting of being”.[xiii] Remembering this relationship for Heidegger meant to rediscover the true nature of who we were (our “beingness”), and the only way to do this would be to face the one unavoidable factor in our existence, which is the prospect of death. Heidegger’s efforts were based on Edmund Husserl’s project of finding a “philosophy of absolute being”, one that would be able to find a universal human consciousness.
Throughout the XXth Century, the idea of a universal human consciousness (in Jung’s terms, the “collective unconscious”) has been largely discredited, and existentialist thought was highly criticized by post-structuralism as too vague to construct solid understandings of reality. Certainly, for the purposes of understanding the world- a quest of an absolute consciousness- would be a challenging task. Yet, the implications of Heidegger’s ideas as we reflect about how we make and experience art, are very useful.
When we are moved by a film, and cry, we don’t fully rationalize the reasons why the film does that to us- and sometimes we even never reflect why it does. Soap operas, a basic commercial genre, profit from the knowledge that basic dramatic patterns will generate an emotional response from the viewers as long as they stick to uncomplicated common denominators in the plots and in the characters.
This is because something happens in our mind that we recognize at an intuitional level. We can be told how to best appreciate a work of art, and the more we know about it can generate a certain emotional attachment to it; yet, our emotional responses to an artwork exist largely outside of any cold rationalizations, and what is more, emotive reactions come to us much faster and naturally than our thinking (we see a work and almost immediately can say whether we like it or not; and then our rationalization takes over as to explain why we like it or dislike it). In contemporary art practice today, however, we have trained ourselves to largely distrust our instinctive emotional responses and usually give way to the rational- usually authoritative- interpretation of it. But in a world where the authoritative interpretation of a work of art overrides any sort of personal response to it, we usually fall into the assumption that it is better to defer to the collective rationalization of a given interpretation of an artwork than to the personal response to it. This results in a philosophical position that favors analysis over experience and deconstruction over dialogue (a debate that, in the realm of philosophy, could be regarded as the battle between deconstruction and hermeneutics, best exemplified in the Derrida-Gadamer debate). In museum practice, it tends to become the gap that exists between the curator (the deconstructor) and the educator (the hermeneutic).
The viewer response in art, for the most part in recent years, has been hijacked by post-structuralism, which mostly tell us what we should think about the art we see by “what it is”, instead of trying to understand our internal process for connecting- or not- to a work of art at an emotional level. Feelings in contemporary art making are mostly acceptable as premeditated or pre-established forms of communication, but to be entirely driven by instinct is a highly risky endeavor for an artist in the contemporary art world. In those instances, even the most “unconscious” (e.g. self-taught, naïve, young) artists soon are appropriated by knowledgeable curators who are able to contextualize their work properly.
This overemphasis in deconstruction and interpretation, while it may serve well the field of art criticism, does not serve well the realm of art making or personal experiencing of art. It is necessary both in the artistic process, and in the personal process of experience of art, to strongly reaffirm the intuitive responses to reality instead of quickly giving way to the interpretive rationalizations of it. It is a process of reaffirmation of the individual.
It is thus necessary to find strong basis for this individual grounding on experience- which was a deep concern, again, to Heidegger. The greatest -and perhaps utopian- aspect of Heidegger’s philosophy, I believe, is his conviction that we can arrive to a sense of wholeness by understanding what “being” is. Heidegger brings to our attention the ultimate perspective we can have on our life- our own death- and the world of references that we construct around it, built by our memory. It is a world that can be suggested, but not administered by the outside, it is our own personal, intimate world, and while it may be founded on an entirely false basis, it still constitutes our personal reality, the one we recognize and live from. We can only hope that we will be the best persons as we follow our personal ideal of what good is, instead of the values imposed by others. After all, it may be bad to live and act by our imperfect vision of reality, but isn’t it worse to live and act by the distorted vision of others? In a world where there are few certainties left, this is the one that we have to hold on to when everything else is drifting away in confusion.
The term “Endingness” does not refer to endings per se. It is what is triggered in the mind by the ending of something, or more precisely, the level of consciousness that we acquire of a certain reality just in the moment when this reality is about to extinguish. It would be, as it were, the instinctual perspectivization of a phenomenon that our mind enacts.
Endingness serves as a constant link between the past and the present. It is another temporal mode, similar to the after-image that we see after we are blinded by a powerful light. It is the past in the present, still both in the past and in the present. Endingness for the mind is similar to the horizon line that we see in the landscape, which does not exist in the physical but in an optical sense.
Following are a number of premises that attempt to provide an approximation of the role of Endingness in memory and creativity.
a. Memory is a biological process by which we recall previous incidents or events. Memory is by nature selective; it can never be the exact replica of an event.
Memory follows a selective process determined by the personality of the individual, his/her convictions, obsessions, favorable or negative associations and past experiences. In its very onset on storing an experience as a memory, the individual is placing specific importance to a whole group of factors associated with an object, event, or series of events.
We know that the human mind is a highly inaccurate process. According to contemporary psychological theory, this is because human recall was not originally designed for verbatim reproduction, bur rather to facilitate action.
According to Art Glenberg, professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, memory exists to help us walk, talk, run, drive a car, answer the phone, and all of the myriad tasks of getting along in the world. Glenberg’s theory would be consistent with one of the basis of education: that hands-on and interactive activities are the most effective learning method, as they reaffirm knowledge in the mind. [xiv]
What would be an exception of this rule would be Eidetic memory, commonly known as “photographic memory”. Eidetic memory has been defined as "the ability to retain an accurate, detailed visual image of a complex scene or pattern... or see an image that is an exact copy of the original sensory experience" [xv] However, while many individuals clearly have an exceptional ability to recall things and experiences accurately, Scientists who study memory phenomena generally believe that eidetic memory does not exist. Early experiments on eidetic memory were intriguing, but could not be replicated.[xvi]
b. Memory’s selective process is a creative one.
Elizabeth Loftus, author of the 1980 seminal book Memory, and an authority on the subject, writes: “A flimsy curtain separates memory from imagination. Suggestions, strong and subtle, can make people believe that they had experiences in childhood that they almost certainly did not have […] Memory is creative. There, I’ve said it all.”[xvii]
The root of creativity lies in the interpretation and articulation of reality in a new form. Creative individuals establish unusual connections between different aspects of reality that normally would not be established in a conventional way. Memory naturally functions creatively. When we recall a particular experience, our mind “fills in the blanks” of specific experiences sometimes adding information (visual, contextual, etc.) about anecdotes that perhaps is a bit different from the actual facts that took place. Sometimes we merge a number of incidents together in one single memory, and sometimes we change the characters that partake on that one memory. Furthermore, the information that our memory accumulates stays stored in our mind for it so subconsciously establish relationships, such as when we dream. Whether we consciously use this characteristic of memory toward a creative endeavor or not, all human beings are born with the subconscious quality of their “defective” memory.
c. Memory is a force in constant evolution, departing from the conjunction of a consciousness or a set of consciousness and an event or series of events, in the world.
The event, from the moment when it happens, triggers a cognitive response from the one or various consciousness that experience it. Thus memory evolves in a cumulative, yet fading manner. It generally follows a line towards a certain climax that normally we recognize as nostalgia, which is parallel to what we consider a scientific, factual interpretation of that event. Thus the birth date of a well known person is a scientific factual data in the sense that it can be corroborated factually. But it is a nostalgic fact when we dramatize it in film, literature or other creative way. Memory is more than the simple series of synapses that take place in our individual brain. It constitutes all the articulations of those synapses that we create when we communicate those memories and it is in that process of articulation when we fall into the ambiguous identity of memory as a general idea. Yet we know that our experiences of those events are real, and our responses to those events- whether they are simple reminiscences of the past or whether they turn into an actual scientific historical work, or a documentary or an artwork- are concrete, real expressions of those ambiguous sets of experiences and feelings. These concrete expressions, when referencing an event that many of us may be familiar with, trigger new memories, revisions of existing memories, and creation of new memories amongst those who didn’t live the original experiences.
d. A response to reality can never be articulated without memory.
As understood by the empiricists like Berkeley, reality is the actual world, the actual things in the world – but the actual things and actual events cannot say anything about themselves. They need a consciousness next to them to acknowledge their existence and furthermore, say something about them. Even if the object is still there, we are still expanding its reality from the memory of the object or event we have experienced.
f. The end of our memory constitutes the end our consciousness.
For Husserl and Heidegger, memory would come to be as one of the many acts of consciousness. The reality that we are in touch with is constituted by the representations in our mind of that consciousness- i. e. the mental images of it. Thus, reality becomes present in us through perception and memory. It is then in the activity of these two fundamental actions in our mind where our understanding of reality resides, and finally where the crisis of reality takes place.
g. When memory is missing details, myth comes to aide as a replacement process.
Myth comes into play when memories have vanished, when there are no records and when that original reality has faded away.
h. The endingness of memory is the link between the ambiguous, biological memory and the articulation of it, because it is the very impulse to articulate that memory that is fed by our recognition of that endingness and our impulse to bring it “back into the world”.
We normally don’t state the obvious. When I am sitting on a chair I normally don’t say “I am sitting on a chair” to others, unless if they do not see us sitting on a chair. We only state those things that we feel need to be stated because they would not be perceived otherwise, and because we consider important at that moment to state them to give them reality. We say “we have a problem” when we feel that the fact that there is a problem has not yet been acknowledged in the world. Similarly, we generally recall a memory once we acquire consciousness of it being one, and when we feel it is important to recall it into our conscious realm. Our very act of recalling that event is the very first step to introduce a memory item into the world. For example: “yesterday was a wonderful day in my life.”
This begins the endingness process, which is the process of mythologizing reality via memory and imagination.
i. Endingness is a state of consciousness composed by both artificial and natural memory.
Artificial memory generally is understood as the conscious process by which we store information. Natural memory is the process by which the mind retains and invents, distorts, or embellishes original information resulting in thoughts or memories that do not relate to the original or actual events. It may be impossible to systematic establish a clear division between artificial and natural memory, because personal memories can hardly be evaluated on scientific terms. At a theater performance, a group of people quizzed afterward to recall the aspects of it would never arrive to the same description of what happened: some would recall details that others wouldn’t and vice versa. Memory functions on a selective basis. Memory thus establishes its own definition of reality, whether individual or collective, as a result of the integration of artificial and natural modes of remembering.
j. Endingness takes place in a metatemporal space.
j.1 Endingness does not need of actual events to exist.
The consciousness of Endingness can take place even before the actual event can take place: “I think today will be an unforgettable day”, we say. We precondition ourselves to regard certain moments, either personal or collective, of our lives as certainly relevant even before they happen. Weddings, Birthdays, holiday celebrations, national holidays, new year’s day, centennials, memorial celebrations- all those are pre-arranged moments that by virtue of the collective importance that we ascribe to them they automatically are conceived to become memory markers of our lives. We know that we may never forget the day of our wedding, our first date, or our last day at work. This is because Endingness does not take place necessarily after the event but also afterward. Similarly, Endingness can be enacted after the event, – for example, when we acquire awareness that a certain past moment was of significance, but at the time it was not acknowledged as such. Endingness can be activated even during the event that is referencing, for example when we announce that we are commemorating that very moment (“I know that I will never forget this moment for as long as I live”). So, while our sets of experiences necessarily exist within the confines of a particular time and place, the perspective of Endingness is ever-changing and is not confined to any particular time or place. It is possible for Endingness even to exist in a fictional set of events that may have never taken place. Endingness can be composed, for example of nostalgia (longing for something that may have never have happened) or for artistic fiction (the catharsis provoked in film, for example).
k. Endingness is the primal response that we have when an event or experience triggers a memory or set of memories. It is the intermediary motivation between our memory of the world and our creative act.
l. Because applications of perspectivism in science are always limited, it is art where the intuitional and rational (natural and artificial) relationship between perspective and memory can be best enacted. Endingness is the ultimate perspective of a set of individual or collective experiences, as recalled by memory.
The systematization of memory, like the systematization of perspective, assumes specific parameters that tend to also be rigid readings of reality. An encyclopedic museum provides an artificial historical perspective, as comprehensive as it may be. In the same way, Piero Della Francesca’s perspective methods are mathematical measurements of the two-dimensional space. In the end, systematization of perspective and of memory can never be entirely accurate because the mere act of transposing the information from the mind or the eye into another realm – be it the two-dimensional surface or language- is already and alteration of the original material, a traduttore/tradittore type of problem in representation.
In this way, memory operates in the same way than perspective, both in a metaphorical, mathematical, and architectural sense.
m. Endingness embodies the cathartic qualities of drama. Endingness brings psychological and emotional catharsis, followed by relief.
Endingness is the ultimate element of drama. Its power is distinct because it is able to contain the totality of experiences (or at least, the semblance of such totality). It is often the climax and the resolution of a given issue in film, in novels, in music, and in any sequential work. In Hollywood films, the ending is generally the great test on whether a film can be valued upon, as well as the key to its resolution- we usually hate it when someone in describing the story of a film tells us “how it ends”, because that information usually takes away our experiential journey toward the climax of resolution of the story.
It is well known that people with near-death or death and back-to-life experiences often remark on how their entire life passes through their eyes. Endingness is the energy that consolidates the totality of our life- a proustian trigger that contains all the feelings, all the moments, and all the emotions, and it is the one thing that makes us feel most alive, more than love, more than sex, more than anything that we can possibly feel. It is an illusion, – it would be impossible to remember at any given time our entire set of memories, experiences and feelings. Nevertheless, Endingness provides us with an illusion that we are seeing it all- while at least what we are seeing or remembering are a selective set of relevant experiences that are most present in our minds.
It has always been interesting for me to see how when a prominent person dies, immediately there is a wave of press, commentary, and nostalgic remembrance- pure endingness- a desire to recover that person, a collective review of this persons’ life and reality. Endingness operates collectively as a cathartic experience. It brings to aide the process of mourning and loss. Once again, Endingness is not a momentary thing- it is something that can exist before, during, and after the event.
Endingness is to memory what orgasm is to sex. It is the climax of experiences; it is the ultimate, unquestionable summary of it all. It is an ecstasy of cognitive elements put together, and in the best of cases, it helps us to gain greater understanding of their significance. In the worst of cases, it pushes us to live in the past, feeding our mind with ghosts. Like sex, or like a drug, it provides an experience that can be so intense that could be painful, as well as an ecstatic moment that we know is precious because we know it is so ephemeral.
There has always been a critical view on the primal impulse to commemorate death and regard ending as the reflective microcosm of the totality of life. The Greek philosopher Teognis de Megara wrote: “foolish men who cry on the sight of death, and not to the flower of youth that slowly fades away”.
“Don’t ask how he died, but how he lived” is a more modern moralist expression that arguably was articulated precisely because of the extreme importance that we give to how things end, and not how they were in a more panoramic perspective. And, similarly, as dramatism is almost an inextricable aspect of endings, so much so that we can’t conceive a quiet ending to something vast. T.S. Eliot reflects on this when he writes in The Waste Land:
This is how the world ends,
This is how the world ends,
This is how the world ends,
Not with a bang but with a whimper.
This brings us to a central question on the nature of Endingness. If Endingness is defined by the accumulation of emotion and memory of experiences, can there be a non-dramatic form of Endingness? The answer would be no, because there is an intricate connection between emotional response and memory. A basic tenet of memorization is that memories are significant inasmuch as there is a deep connection between us and them, and the deepest connections are emotional. Thus this is how when we recall the most important moments of our lives we usually think about the ones that are linked to the most powerful emotions- happiest moments, moments of greatest sadness, fear, passion, etc.
6. Endingness and the Architectural Space
In order for Endingness to take place, it requires a particular location in the mind to exist and be recalled at any given moment. I have previously mentioned that Endingness necessarily takes place in a meta-temporal space (j). The next question would be on whether it is possible to physically construct an endingnessial space as it would play out in an artistic practice, and what kinds of attributes it would have.
n. The endingnessial architectural space should not be limited by an unmovable perspective be it visual or conceptual.
Modernism was largely ruled by the notion that a particular set of ideas or credos would be imperative in the creation of a new artistic language. In contemporary art today, no dominating language exists. Individual artists have been freed from the monolingual tendencies of artistic vocabularies and it is necessary to be open to the fact that we experience today not one, but an indefinite number of perspectives. Thus an ideal experiential space needs to be open to that multiplicity of different and complementary perspectives.
o. The ideal endingnessial architectural space should be an ever-changing integration of all collective, yet singular, perspectives in a dialogic environment. It should also never intend to be read in any explicit way.
When I mean a full integration of perspectives it may sound the same than saying that we need to create all-inclusive democratic spaces. It is important here to make a distinction between a homogenized space and a space that allows contradictions and discrepancies. A homogenized space, such as the American suburbs, is not a dialogic reunion of perspectives, but instead the equalization of a set of values that are agreed upon a priori and that forcefully coexist, if usually going against each other, and specially contradicting each other.
Much of late XXth century architecture –particularly memorials- try to use perspective as a metaphor of death. Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin is a good example of a building structure physically seeking to replicate the magnitude of a collective experience– the Holocaust. Yet, the building functions by pre-ordained symbolic routes that are not based on other than the architect’s interpretation of what should communicate things like death, confusion, and finitude. We walk through the “axis of memory”, and while we are invited to reflect on the horror of the tragedies of others, the implicit hope of the architectural structure is that the physical space will somehow communicate to us, in an abstract or metaphysical sense, the magnitude of the event it remembers. The problem with such a model is the presumption that the physical/allegorical/architectural representation of an event (whose form is decided upon by the artist himself) will necessarily take us the closest to experience it. In reality- and this is perhaps the unsolvable problem with public art, museums, and architecture- original experience can only be approximated, but never recreated. Art will always generate deep responses and experiences, but it can almost never succeed in pre-establishing what kind of experience we should have towards it. The ideal endingnessial space is the one that gives room for those self-reflective experiences without ascribing a definite physical shape to them- a reason for which it should be ever-changing. Therefore, the endingnessial space should not only be ever-changing, but also it should never aspire to convey any definite reading.
p. A space that transmits the full experience of reality has to be constituted by the rational and the intuitional interpretation of memory.
By rational interpretation I mean the philosophical and textual tradition, and by the intuitional interpretation I mean the one transmitted by the non-verbal arts. Endingness is an instance where both intuition and rationalization come together. In the implementation of a new art of memory using this logic, the interpretation about the artwork and the art work itself are one and the same thing at all times. Thus instead of becoming the dialogic result of the idea/image relationship, art instead will become the perspective of its own perspective.
q. The architectural Endingnessial space, constituted both by artificial and natural memory, has to be built out of the foundational structure of a “perspectivist memory brick”.
A “memory brick” is the equivalent to the behavior of a string of neurological synapses. But as it happens in the mind, these trends are never exactly the same: memories are ever-evolving and ever changing. Thus the memory brick, while it should be consistent in its form from other bricks, has to have a fungible quality- i. e. it should stay firm, but at the same time it must be modifiable. Similarly, the “memory brick” has to be infinitely exchangeable by others. The interchangeability of the “memory brick” is a natural phenomenon in human memory.
r. The architectural Endingnessial space should be an ever-changing, and most importantly, a contradictory space.
This is a necessity due to the need of a multi-perspectival, experiential space. In order to really respond to our current reality, art can no longer be a creation derived from a single perspective. Art has to provide all the perspectives simultaneously, be self-referential and external, and be both affirmative and negative.
Endingness and the Musical Space
Music is the one art form where endingness can find the best conjunction of intuitive and logical realities. In contrast to architecture and literature, music originates a space that is the most open to our personal insertion of imagery and experience- and, due to its emotional connection; it is a natural site for us to place our most significant memories. Music is often the trigger of memories, triggering not only concrete scenes in our life but also entire periods of our lives. We can be conditioned by music to laugh, cry, or reflect, based on the cognitive associations that we have developed with it, and we can see images in melodies. More than architecture, music has that natural ability to reconform and regroup. Different musical interpretations of the same context become new containers for experiences.
s. Musical space, like Endingness, obeys a multi-layered structure.
Musical compositions, on the other hand, are the best example of the way in which Endingnessial consciousness does not function in one single line, but often in a combination of juxtaposed experiences.
This characteristic is best exemplified by the form of the fugue, which is considered the most sophisticated expression of Western polyphony, and which was brought it to its highest development by Bach. A fugue is a polyphonic procedure in which a motive (subject) is exposed in an initial tonic/dominant relationship, and then developed by contrapuntal means. (Counterpoint being the art of combining melodies each of which is independent through forming part of a homogeneous texture).
Originally of a choral nature, Fugues generally consist of a series of expositions and developments of melodies or “voices” with no fixed number of either. At its simplest, a fugue might consist of one exposition followed by optional development. A more complex fugue might follow the exposition with a series of developments, or another exposition followed by one or more developments.
The main elements of the fugue are: a theme or subject, stated first in one and then in all voices; continuation of a voice after the subject, accompanying the subject statements in other voices and passages built upon a motif, a short phrase derived from the subject or countersubject.
In memory, like in the fugue, there are a variety of multiple voices, instead of a single melodic line. Like memory, there is a natural rewriting of versions of a single theme in a variety of forms – which we can call “memory voices”, that can be considered polyphonic when they become fabricated memories (adulterated or embellished memories) and cacophonic when they become mixed in the subconscious in an illogical manner (dreaming).[xviii] The memories in the mind are like melodic lines that repeat themselves and connect next to each other in a coherent whole. It could be said that our memories are the musical repertoires that we unconsciously play in our dreams.
This notion of multiple voices is not far from what physiologically occurs in our brain. In electroencephalograms, the visual record is a picture of brain waves made by the process of electroencephalography. The electrical activity or each brain cell or neuron is recorded by placing small electrodes on the scalp; activity is magnified 1 million times and recorded as brain waves. There are generally four main kinds of waves in the brain. What electroencephalograms prove is that brain activity is composed of a multiplicity of electronic signals, and not in a single, continuous flow of information.
7. Endingness and Amnesia
This work, inevitably a self-reflection of itself, would not have been written without my belief that not only we experience Endingness on an everyday basis, but in that I believe we live in a time of Endingness as well, where self-referentiality (often referenced as ‘meta’), as well as a number of strange collective obsessions with reality and fiction reveal a particularly important state in our minds that should be explored inside and outside the realm of art.
Reality is quickly disappearing from our every day life. This doesn’t mean, of course, that objects are vanishing before our eyes- on the contrary, one could argue that nowadays we see more than ever before. It is rather precisely due to the overload of information that those things which we see come to mean less and less, as a result of our crisis of consciousness.
In places where there is little self-consciousness, no memory, or weakness of perception, there is a weak relationship to reality. When it comes to talking about contemporary urban centers detached from reality, we can find places that are entire simulations of perception (Las Vegas), archaeological simulations of their own past (Detroit), and illustrations of themselves as touristy havens (Miami). The corporate world, which is based in the clonation of identical forms of business, architecture, and experience, is the fastest propagator of unreality in the world. Paradoxically, third-world countries have higher levels of reality than developed countries. Reality in places like these becomes not the physical immediacy of something, but the concretion of “somethingness” that is contained in certain things or circumstances. If what we see and feel is derived from things or ideas that already exist or existed elsewhere, this environment looses reality inasmuch as it reproduces that original something.
In a constructed environment where everything is a simulation of something else, all that is left is what Baudrillard understood as nostalgia- wanting to be something that you can never be. And the unattainability of that something, the very impossibility to have something that we have conditioned ourselves to want- makes us unhappy individuals.
Following this reasoning, pragmatic thought is based on existing things, on immediacy- but it is not able to distinguish derived realities from original realities. Utopian thinking, on the other hand, rests on imagining impossibilities- things that we know for certain that they don’t exist, but we want them to exist sometime in the future. Paradoxically, this utopian awareness brings us closer to reality than our purported pragmatism, because we know that we try to construct something unattainable- as opposed, like the pragmatists, that we are already constructing on something solid when we may be constructing over thin air.
Endingness, as I tried to articulate in this text as an initial approximation, is perhaps an utopian nostalgia for the reality that we are missing in our life. It manifests itself in a spontaneous level in our consumerist behavior, in our collective obsessions and cathartic reactions in talk shows and reality TV, in what we like and don’t like in our most primary level. It is similar to the Platonic idea of learning- recognition of something that we already knew from the moment we were born, but that we had forgotten.
Endingness makes us, at the most basic level, to consume in order to find a sense of completion. In its most sophisticated level, it becomes a condition of the mind that naturally brings both rational and intuitional aspects in the viewer – something that Panofsky, while referring to perspective, divided between the mathematical aspect of perspective and the psycho physiological aspects of it. We put things in perspective in a logical sense, and we see them in perspective as we review our memories. Like the story of the singing swan, myth sometimes takes the form of a collective endingness, and endingness mythologizes the real through art.
One can think of Endingness as only a personal process, but one which is also is enacted whenever we sense extinction, whether of social values, of cultural legacy, or intellectual curiosity. Being aware of these aspects of “social endingness” is important, and although I am not able to discuss it in this essay, I believe it is the foundation of the control of our memory loss by others, and –taking here the risk to sound like a self-help manual- the beginning of self-empowerment. Those who remember are in a better position to challenge those who are in power, and it is the power of remembrance that can allow us not to go back to the undesirable historical moments where we once were.
In religion, the notion of the apocalypse and the last judgment is a form to implement the power of endingness at the service of a moral purpose- a rather manipulative strategy. The notion of the “last judgment” is the ultimate endingness situation for all souls, where all is put into perspective and a final resolution is made on our eternal fate. It is a dramatic ending, and we need to be prepared for it.
But as the feeling of endingness is awaken in us to look back and reflect upon the good or bad we had done in life, the manipulative strategy of endingness is not only utilized by organized religion. Endingness is a powerful social tool that also translates into fear and intimidation. In a conservative society where change means not the improvement of life but rather the end of a comfortable stage, the feeling of endingness can easily be evoked. We fear the loss of our security, our jobs, our standard of living, and ultimately, our lives and the ones around us. If there were no sense of endingness, there would be no fear.
Thus understanding the process by which endingness dominates our fears thus can be a liberating process. It frees the mind to understand that the end exists regardless of what we think of it, and will happen also regardless.
Endingness is a creative force. Like abstract energy, it can be manipulated, it can be channeled, and it also can be used in harmful ways. It should logically follow then that understanding its characteristics and the ways by which we are influenced by it can make us free.
[i] Quoted by Mme. Helena Blavatsky in The Last Song of the Swan, in Lucifer, February, 1890
[ii] William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act III
[iii] Brewers Book of Myth and Legend
[iv] The Aberdeen Bestiary, Aberdeen University (f58v) see http://www.clues.abdn.ac.uk8080/bestiary_old
[v] James Elkins, The Poetics of Perspective, p.
[vi] See Alexander Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism, Taschen, 1997 pp 701- 2
[vii] Giordano Bruno, On the Composition of Images, Signs & Ideas, translated by Charles Doria, edited and annotated by Dick Higgins (New York: Willis, Locker & Owens, 1991),
[viii] Bruno, Op. cit., introduction
[ix] For a more detailed analysis of Camillo’s Theater and its relationship to virtual interface see Pablo Helguera, Artificiosa Memoria: Mnemonic Utopia and Museums, Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum, Hagen, 2002.
[x] Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, p. 230
[xi] Yates, ibid, p.230
[xii] Giordano Bruno, Corpus Hermeticum XI, Ch. II
[xiii] Paul Strathern, Heidegger, p.30
[xiv] See Glenberg, A. M., & Kaschak, M. P. (2003). The body’s contribution to language. In B. Ross (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, V43 (pp. 93-126). New York: Academic Press; and Borghi, A. M., Glenberg, A. M., & Kaschak, M. P. (in press). Putting words in perspective. Memory & Cognition.
[xv] For a study of eidetic imagery see Gray, C.R., and Gummerman, K. (1975). The enigmatic eidetic image: A critical examination of methods, data, and theories. Psychological Bulletin 82, 383-407.
[xvi] What is the basis behind a photographic memory? Article by Michael Freed, Aerospace Human Factors, NASA Ames Research Center, www.massci.org; MadSci Network, Washington University Medical School, 1997
[xvii] Elizabeth F. Loftus & William H. Calvin, “Memory’s Future,” in Psychology Today 34(2):55ff (March-April, 2001).
[xviii] For an example of a visual/conceptual literalization of the polyphonic form of the fugue see Pablo Helguera, Parallel Lives, 2003.