METAPHYSICAL misappropriation

(It’s not what you know it’s what you need that is)

In recent and lively debate with a good friend it became apparent maybe why I have such misgivings and existential discomfort about too much cosmic conversation, too much transcendental talk, why the whole quantum subject continues to get my proverbial goat. While still enjoying such intellectually detached banter I personally feel such concepts are better phenomenologically considered than limited to the realms of alphabetic constraint. As alluring as such mind-melding activity might be what good is inspiration and metaphysical wisdom without the practical knowledge of how we may practically apply them, move forward and become resilient and resourceful in the face of the ever-evolving and deepening ecological global crisis that we are presently facing, whether that be in our art practice or simply in our day-to-day living?

“It explained only why I should no longer trust my senses, and should accept that the abstract dimension of sub-atomic particles – the esoteric world of electrons and gluons and quarks – was in fact a truer, realer world than the one disclosed by my corporeal senses…” from Becoming Animal by David Abram.

  little feet and hands, (print; c pickard & m bailey 2011)

For example, how many of us know how to build and maintain basic but adequate shelter, to grow vegetables successfully, to hunt and kill an animal humanely and butcher it efficiently (if that is our want), to cook nutritionally sufficient meals from scarce ingredients, to identify and gather wild food safely and skillfully, to build and light a fire for cooking or warmth, to source and render water fit for drinking, to fish, to milk a cow, to ride a horse, to sail or row a boat with knowledge of wind and tides, to navigate without the use of a map or compass, to perform basic first aid or to use naturally occurring products for medicine, to have the patience and compassion to care for the sick, vulnerable and elderly, to make decisions as part of a community for the good of  the whole ‘community’ or to patiently and skillfully pass on this knowledge to others? I for one admit to none, or at least a very limited familiarity with the majority of such skills.

Through the erstwhile and comprehensive detachment of our present civilization from such means of empowerment and production we have slowly but surely, and sometimes willingly, abandoned our rights to personal and societal freedom. So, while an understanding of the spiritual essence of being and becoming has a part to play in sustaining such resilience and livelihood, without the aspiration for and dissemination of such basic practical know how our sense of personal and societal empowerment are practically meaningless. Real understanding of the metaphysical nature of being does not come through the intellect alone but through tactile and experiential engagement with the substance of the material world.

To continue further, for a society to function healthily and dynamically, in accordance with universal ideas of ecology and energetic transference, we must rely upon a few fundamental roles and actions to maintain a sense of ethical progression and earthly connection, or more simply the work that needs to be done

  that what needs to be done (pward 2011)

Often we hear and use the term ‘disconnection from nature’ in our analysis of the contemporary crisis, and while Frederick Sommer rightly argues that we are never bodily or spiritually disconnected from it, we have certainly been removed from our means for self-sufficiency and sustenance, from the practical and animate knowledge which maintains our ability to both economic (material) and intellectual independence from any abusers of power. Apparently such disconnection was achieved in the west as feudalism was replaced by a money economy in the middle ages, before which politics and land ownership were at least based on a primarily organic model.

“To exploit an estate in order to get from it the highest monetary revenue was considered almost an abuse of property rights, especially if such exploitation involved the misery or degradation of the cultivators of the soil…from DREAMING THE DARK by Starhawk.

While such measures described above may appear extreme or an unlikely eventuality, the metaphorical as well as practical implications of such knowledge can only lead to a deeper sense of humanity and temporal connectivity than a life without, and hence a more robust and resilient form of community and self-determination. This is not to say that our contemporary wisdom or perception is irrelevant or inappropriate, just that the relativity of a broad practical knowledge allows each of us the power to act more creatively for the good of all within a more diverse set of circumstances.

  Ancient Petroglyphs, Rock National Historic Site in Utah

Regarding ART – since human society has existed art has been evident. CULTURE, the production of painting, sculpture, music, literature etc, is an inherent function and intrinsic element of our becoming. Wherever we have survived we have decorated, contemplated and communicated through this diverse and multifarious media. It is not only a statement and document of society it is an expression of the functionality, health and vitality of that society. How individuals as symbiotically interrelated parts of any community choose and determine to employ art is a measure of a society’s cultural evolution, of its ecological self-perception.

So maybe any art that hopes to address the metaphysical issues of the contemporary global community would do well to encourage and promote such materially based practical knowledge to truly empower and emancipate people from the shackles of consumerism and capitalism, and to engage with the individual sense of responsibility that ecological understanding implies. How such principles may be embodied through art within the immanent structures of society is another matter for another day, but one that I am sure could be creatively expanded through the sensibly or substantially reflective processes suggested by socially motivated artists such as Joseph Beuys and his followers.

“I will act as if what I do makes a difference.” William James,


In more recent times the socially engaged and ecologically dynamic role that art plays, in all its guises has been identified, analysed and enabled through the work of such as Suzi Gablik, Joseph Beuys, Grant H Kester and David Abram, to name but a few. It is with such knowledge and experiential understanding that we may now choose to deploy it, or engage within a community, for the benefit of ALL rather just a few. It is our ecologically implicit responsibility toward each other and the planet that we process and express our latent creativity and intelligence in the knowledge that what we do is not an isolated incident but a repercussive action whose effects permeate and reverberate through the very fabric of not only our own lives but of all life. May we continue to chose wisely, and if not continue then at least determine to begin…


2 Comments on “METAPHYSICAL misappropriation”

  1. Clare says:

    I’ll tell you why we still need transcendental conversation and quantam thoughts – because they are to do with wonder. Wonder at the world around us and how it works, and how that may be very different from the way it appears to work! It is the same wonder that caused our ancient ancestors to look into the sky and create gods and godesses, to track the voyages of the stars and to light fires when the year began to turn away from the sun.

    Without a sense of wonder – and the pure joy that comes from it – all the life skills you propose will be for nothing. Who wants to live in a world where all is utilitarian and where nobody dreams?

    • pw130524 says:

      Hi Clare – Many thanks for your thoughts.

      As much as I understand (and even share) your concerns about ‘the sense of wonder’ that you propose such intellectual and scientific deliberations convey, I still question the efficacy and nature of such communications. One point I was aiming to raise was that such matters quantum and metaphysical are better expressed through experiential and sensorial means, if this is at all possible. Such theoretical positions and observations are not generally those capable of being observed or experienced through any but second hand means, whether through highly specialised (and expensive) technology or through the minds of ‘great’ academics. Therefore I question their relevance to the processes of spiritual and metaphysical reflection I hope to embody within my art practice and which I feel might help transform our perceptions and actions in this age of global ecological crisis. Maybe the more time we spend in the abstract world of scientific and metaphysical theory the less we are capable of experiencing and appreciating the miraculous, wondrous and sensorial phenomenon of life. And while I appreciate that such theories are originally based on the observation of nature ‘…There is rarely any clear translation back from the pose of pure, bodiless rationality to a language appropriate to our lived engagement and rapport with the life around us’ (from ‘Becoming Animal by David Abram).

      Also, just to mention that at no point within this article did I totally dismiss the abstract findings of science but instead felt it important to emphasise the possible ‘sense of wonder’ that I feel concerning such essential and everyday actions within the functioning of a healthy society (and incidentally those humble yet necessary roles more often enacted by women and the poor). These ‘utilitarian’ actions are the very bedrock upon which our survival as a species have been based and as such I only hope to highlight them so that people may respect and acknowledge their importance. Indeed such acknowledgement may also allow us to recognise the apparent ‘sense of wonder’ toward such intelligent and essential actions and the part they have played and continue to play. To promote, acknowledge and celebrate the basic actions that lead to our survival may surely only multiply the joy we feel and enrich the often mundane nature of our existence.

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