Saturday, January 21, 2012

making, meaning, knowing

After reading text after text about institutional racism and sexism, I turned to my brilliant sister for some reading suggestions. Something uplifting. Her answer? Ellen Dissanayake. With only a chapter remaining of Art & Intimacy, I am positively giddy. Like so many other authors/books that have changed my life, I cannot wait to talk about, write about, and assimilate Dissanayake's ideas. For now, the following:

"The challenge...was, in all acts of life, to transform the contaminated and impure into the culturally infused and human. This--no more and no less--was the meaning of life."1

In an era permeated (perhaps even defined) by toxicity, Dissanayake's observation of the Yekuana culture becomes all the more pertinent and (for me at least) poignant. Sullied by capitalism, industrialism, and a kind of mutated Enlightenment individualism, we are bereft. We scramble for truth and hold fast to illusion. Could it be that the paucity of transformational making is to blame? In a society where the simple acquisition of material goods is valorized and the complexity and nuance of empirical knowing virtually absent, fulfillment and meaning are indeed diaphanous and distant.

As I read Dissanayake, I couldn't help but think of the unique and damning problems that come with the performing arts. What happens when "making" does not result in an object? For example, in the life of a musician--where that which is made is temporal, transient, and without artifact--the issue of "hands-on" knowing produces an unpredictable (and yes, often toxic) series of  psychological ripples. We make yet produce no object, we strive for the Truth/Notion/Idea through a means that requires isolation and elitism (in contrast to Dissanayake's assertion that art and relationships go hand in hand). We toil so that we might contribute to that dangerous dialectic of the intentional and the ineffable. 

1.Dissanayake, Ellen. 2000. Art and intimacy: how the arts began. Seattle, Wa: University of Washington Press. 78

No comments:

Post a Comment