This Essay was read out at the Triumph of Stuckism Symposium at John Moores University in Liverpool in 2005. Since then versions of it have been published in various journals and anthologies. This is the latest and enlarged version.
An Intellect of the Heart
By Bill Lewis
1 Grass Roots Intellectualism.
Simone De Beauvoir once wrote, “at the age of 18 I decided to become an intellectual.” When I read this quote it really affected me in a positive way. It also made me realise that I could not imagine anyone in England in the latter half of the 20th century making such a bold statement.
The majority of English people belong to a new middle class that emerged from the old working class between the wars (and grew at an exponential rate from the end of WWII and the end of the 1960’s). One of the things that this new socio-economic group fears above all, is to be seen as pretentious, a word that is used erroneously to describe any kind of serious thought concerning artistic or literary culture. I believe this to be a hangover of propaganda promoted by the old upper and middle classes who feared that the masses would displace them from their positions of privilege (especially after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia). We were always taught to “know our place” and not “get above our station”, phrases you don’t hear very often any more but I suspect are still ingrained in our national psyche. We have many phrases in the English language that speak disparagingly about being too clever, being a “big head” or being “too big for your boots”, being a “smart aleck” a “know it all”. There are many other such phrases.
My father and mother were part of the rural working class. My father worked on a farm and I grew up in a house that did not have a bathroom or an inside toilet. The outside toilet did not even flush and consisted of a bucket that once filled was taken to the top of the garden and emptied into a hole. The bath was a tin bath that hung on the wall in the yard and was filled from kettles on bath night. The cottage we lived in belonged to the farmer that my dad worked for. Later when my father got cancer and was too sick to work we were thrown out of our cottage. This all informed my political identity. I have always been on the liberal left. It also formed my class identity…at least for a awhile. I left school at 15
without any qualifications (I still have none on paper) and went to work in a warehouse at the back of a local supermarket.
I asked myself (much later than De Beauvoir did at 18) a question, an essential human question and one that is one of the central themes of literature and of art: What am I? I had always been a thinker and as an artist and poet, a creator, but as a working class boy without any formal education could I be an intellectual? I was certainly not an academic. I got a clue that may have lead me to answer this when, in 1982, after getting my first poems published and leaving yet another low paid job, I decide to become a fulltime writer and artist. In 1985 I was appointed Writer-In-Residence at the
Brighton Festival. While there I was introduced to a retired professor from the University of Sussex by the name of Z.
Tarkovski. I never learned what the Z stood for and even his English wife referred to him simply as Z. I mention him only now because he told me something that I found very interesting. He had been a student at the University
of Lublin in Poland before World War II. He said that at that time lectures were always full but there were only enough students to fill half the lecture halls. I didn’t understand. “Who filled the other places?” I asked. He smiled, and said, “You see, the students only paid for tuition and board but the lectures were free. The rest of the audience was made up of the intellectuals who came, listened, went back to their cafes and bars, argued and discussed the ideas, and disseminated them”. These grass roots, creative intellectuals were not necessarily academics.
Some academics can be intellectuals but intellectualism is not exclusive to a vocation in academia. Academics need to specialise and become experts in their chosen fields. Intellectuals tend to be “universalists” (a word absent from most
dictionaries) and see all aspects of reality worthy of deep study.
I also began to realise another thing: if I was an intellectual I was not the same kind of thinker as Simone De Beauvoir. Her brilliant mind used a methodology of forming ideas that came out of the Enlightenment, and in particular, the process of understanding reality of two particular philosophers, Sir Isaac Newton and Rene Descartes.
2. Old Paradigms.
I believe it is time for a new kind of intellectualism to emerge. I call this the “Intellect of the heart”. By the heart I do not speak of the pump in my chest, but the emotional core of my being, although as we move out of a three hundred year old paradigm, which has come to be known as the Newtonian/Cartesian paradigm, it is perhaps more accurate to include those parts of the body not usually seen as being part of the function of thought.
The Newtonian/Cartesian view of the Universe proposes a reality of fragmented parts and believes that the Cosmos is a machine running on “clockwork- like” principles and certainty. It “pigeon-holes” thought processes and fixes the seat of reason (and at one time before discarding it, the soul) firmly in the head. Descartes saw the mind and body as separate. The Cartesian method for understanding something is to take it apart and see how the parts work.
This “parts” mentality gave rise to the Industrial Revolution (as nature was seen as separate from man and, consequently, there for the sole purpose of being exploited without repercussion), Political expansion, Empire, Capitalism and eventually Marxism. Both the latter two are ideologies believe in the control of nature: they only differ in how wealth should be distributed. As painter and writer and co-founder of Stuckism, Billy Childish points out “The Right and the Left both queue up outside of doors which are both signed: MORE. Very few form a queue by the one marked: LESS.”
By “less” in this context he means: “enough.” Even religion was subject to influence by this system. Even though religion is seen as eternally un-changing in its message, the interpretation of that message is affected by economic, political and scientific trends. Mainstream religion became an “either/or” view of spirituality, where nature, humanity and God were separate from each other.
In the West this started with an earlier paradigm shift that had in fact moved us towards the Newtonian/Cartesian
view. This earlier shift was nudged into being by a group of thinkers in the early church headed by Augustine and Jerome (both of whom had brought with them dualistic views from earlier beliefs such as Neo-Platonism and Manichaeism)
The radical theologian Matthew Fox believes a line can be traced from this earlier paradigm to the Newtonian/Cartesian model. Jerome, Augustine and their clique moved the idea of "The Fall" into the centre of Christianity (in fact Augustine states that “nature is rotten”) whereas before it was just one of many disparate ideas that floated around the new religion. Augustine not only pushed the concept of "The Fall" into the centre but also the idea of women being inferior to men. He thought of nature as fallen but blamed Eve for that fall. In doing so he sowed the seeds of institutional sexism into western thought. It is this view of nature, I believe, being separate, fallen and in need of being tamed, subjugated and used, that has led to our present economic and ecological crisis. You can see, I think, how this older paradigm influenced thinkers like Rene Descartes and Sir Isaac Newton.
Before I go on I must also say there are no “heroes” and “villains” in this discourse. Newton and Descartes were great men who gave much to scientific and intellectual thought and (certainly in the case of Newton) had many different theories. They were both spiritual people. If there is any fault here, it lies with the nameless political figures that saw in these pure theories a justification for industrial and political expansionism. In fact they ignored Newton’s other writings on magic, spirituality and cosmology. His Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Magicis is still ignored, even by those who admire his work. Also it must be stated that Newtonian Physics works, it is just incomplete.
Much the same thing happened later with Darwin and with Marx. Selective reading of a theory and making use of only of the passages that are useful. For example: many hard line Marxists quote the line “religion is the opiate of the people” but leave out the rest of that sentence which reads: “…it is the only heart in a heartless world”. Just as many Christians quote “an eye for and eye, a tooth for a tooth” but forget “vengeance is mine says the Lord, let no man punish Cain except me.”
3. New Paradigms
When science changes, everything else follows. The discovery early in the 20th century of Quantum theory threw a metaphorical spanner in the works of the mechanistic universe. That old “parts” mentality became redundant when observing the deeper aspects of reality (although those who run our society have invested deeply in the old paradigm and ignore the ramifications of a new vision of reality). The new emerging physics had an “uncertainty principle” at its very heart.
We are now beginning to realize that we live in an inter-connected Universe, where our very reality can only be defined as a relationship between probabilities (because that is the reality of sub-atomic particles: they are probabilities.) You can not apply Descartes methods to Quantum Physics. If you could totally isolate one of these “particles” it would cease to exist because its existence is only in the relationship it has with other so called particles.
Now, if these very small things that we are made of behave in this mysterious way then perhaps it is the way that everything in the larger universe operates also (see Danah Zohar’s book: The Quantum Society). It is in this relationship (that occurs in the apparently empty space between so-called objects) that our reality comes into
being. Let’s take this a step further, from the microcosm to the macrocosm. Perhaps not just sub atomic particles but also all “objects”—minds and bodies—only really exist in that space between. It is only “there” that our
psychology, spirituality and culture become real to us.
In one of my own poems I wrote the line: “love nature and remember/the nearest bit of nature to you/is you.”
When I taught courses on myth and spirituality I used to write on the whiteboard that quote from the science fiction TV series X- Files: “The truth is out there.” But under it I would add a quote of my own: “but where is out there?”
The physicist Dr. Fritjof Capra noted, as early as the 1970’s in his work “The Tao Of Physics”, that the language
used by scientists to explain (or try to explain) this new concept of reality had much in common with that used by mystics and philosophical beliefs of the ancient East (I also find such language within the Sufi and Kabbalistic
traditions). Certain theologians such as the aforementioned Matthew Fox, have argued for a “both/and” view as opposed to an “either/or” view. He speaks of a “Deep Ecumenism” that does not just try to unite one faith, but many. He also brought together thinkers from many disciplines; scientists, ecologists, feminists, the men’s movement,
theologians from many faiths and cosmologists, to discuss and argue into being this new paradigm. Amongst these thinkers is the poet Robert Bly whose book “Iron John” explores the initiation of boys into manhood through a
folktale collected by the Brothers Grimm.
Also in that group were Feminist thinkers such as Anne Wilson Scheaf whose writings on addiction help us to understand that society itself has become addictive (she became an government advisor on the drug problem in American for the Clinton Administration, although much of what she had to say was not acted upon) and Joanna Macy, the Buddhist scholar and environmental activist, a promoter of “Engaged Buddhism”.
In Matthew Fox’s key work “Original Blessing” he traces a tradition in the Christian Church that runs parallel to the
Augustine/Jerome paradigm, an alternative and often underground view of faith that has been repressed but often emerges in the works of mystics, especially those influenced by the Celtic church such as Hildegard Von Bingen, Meister Eckhart, and Francis of Assisi. The latter despite being made a Saint, was expelled from the order that he created (The Franciscans). Like many of these mystics Matthew Fox was also excommunicated by the Catholic Church.
This reconciliation between Intellectual thought, mysticism and faith based systems would have not been possible in the old intellectualism of the Enlightenment (although even the Neo-Platonists accepted mystical experiences. Plotinus we are told first understood Plato’s ideas in a mystical experience although he chose rational thought as the best method to examine them).
One great 20th century thinker may give us a clue to how this may be achieved. The late Gregory Bateson, the English
anthropologist, linguist, semiotician and cyberneticist was one of the people who influenced Capra’s seminal work “The Turning Point” an overview of all the sciences in the light of the New Paradigm.
Capra had met with Bateson at the Esalen Institute at Big Sur, California. He records remarks made by Bateson in one of their conversations in his book “Uncommon Wisdom”:
“Logic is a very elegant tool,’ he said, ‘and we’ve had got a lot of mileage out of it for two thousand years or so.
The trouble is, you know, when you apply it to crabs and porpoises, and butterflies and habit formation’ –his voice
trailed off, and he added after a pause, looking out over the ocean—‘you know, to all those pretty things’”*
He goes on:
"because that whole fabric of living things is not put together by logic….when you get circular trains of causation,
as you always do in the living world, the use of logic will make you walk into paradoxes” (2)
Later the conversation ends with Capra asking what tool can be used instead of logic and Bateson replies: “…metaphor. That’s how this whole fabric of mental interconnections holds together. Metaphor is right at the bottom of being alive.”( 3) Metaphor has always been the language of poets and artists (perhaps more than ever in Modernism). It seems scientists, philosophers and artists may have a common ground in this new paradigm.
For Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, the words Metaphor and Myth are interchangeable. Campbell was greatly influenced by Jung’s concept of archetypes. In his writings he shows us that all myths are “true” because they are metaphorical. In Campbell’s work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” he tells us how all stories have elements of a
universal “mono myth” which he refers to as the Hero’s Journey, a kind of template that can be found underneath all great stories (whether they are from the Holy Books of religion or Buffy The Vampire Slayer, if a human mind conceived it, it will be there). He argues that all myths emerge from our very biology. An example can be found in an art form that became prominent in the 20th century cinema.
When George Lucas made his original trilogy of Star Wars movies he consciously included aspects of the Hero’s journey as interpreted by Campbell. In these movies we find Luke Skywalker, seen as the universal hero (the Ego in search of the Self) and Darth Vader (the human Shadow whom we all must face if we are to develop).
Joseph Campbell did not just see myth as an academic study but as way of enriching all human lives. He believed we are all called to adventure but we have a choice to answer that call or ignore it. In an age when it was the fashion to be iconoclastic and to de-mythologize he believed in keeping the myth but making it transparent so you could look through its various layers of meaning. Campbell is the very model of a “universalist” having walked out on his PhD because he refused to specialise.
We are starting to see that there are many interesting voices that have challenged the old paradigm view of reality. Many of these great thinkers would have been outside the narrow parameters of the old intellectualism.
The quantum system started a process which is not yet finished. We are freed from the bone box to accept a dynamic and life affirming way of being. The universe now seems more like an organism than a machine. That is not to say that we must reject intellectual rigour, because the brain is also part of this new way of thinking, but only in so far that it is in balance with our emotional intelligence.
It may seem strange to speak of mysticism in the same breath as rational thought and logic but even the Greek philosophers who gave us the very concept of philosophy were not adverse to mystical thought. As I mentioned before, the Neo-Platonist philosopher Porphyry (234-305 AD) tells us in his work on Plotinus (204-270 CE) that he (Plotinus) first experienced Plato’s thoughts in a mystical experience but rejected ritual as a means to exploring them and instead used reason.
4. From Stuckism to Remodernism.
The quantum system and Einstein’s discovery of relativity began to filter into culture in the early days of the Modernist experiment in art and literature. Most of us would agree that the new ideas in science had its equivalent in painting and writing in those first decades of the 20th century. For instance: In Picasso’s attempt to show more than one moment in
space and time or in the novels of James Joyce with the free flow of thought and language. Modern Art, seen in historical perspective, has been a marriage of intellectual ideas with expression of feelings right from its very start. This
caused changes in the styles of western art to move at an incredible rate. Interestingly enough, Joseph Campbell was in Paris at the time that these innovations in art and literature were happening and this definitely led to his later work on myth. He argued with his PhD sponsors that any study of mythology needed to incorporate these modernist ideas.
The choice now is: what kind of intellectual thought will it embrace next? It takes a long time for such complex scientific
and philosophical ideas to filter through to the general public, and only now, long after our culture believes it has left behind the Modernist experiment and has moved into postmodernism, are those scientific theories entering the popular forum. We see an emerging new politic as expressed by the Green Movement and many people now share an idea of the natural world being an interconnected environment as opposed to a disconnected one. It is my firm belief that we should take a second look at these ideas alongside the art and literature we are creating. When I joined Stuckism I had already spent a decade meeting some of the thinkers of the emerging paradigm and, it seemed to me, that this art movement could be a positive force for change.
One of the statements in the Remodernist manifesto speaks of bringing spirituality back into the centre of art. I suggest the spirituality that will become linked with this movement will be a holistic one. In our new intellectualism we will think with all of our being and because we see reality as metaphor. Because of this I hope we will be able to set up a much needed dialogue between western Liberal thought and people of faith. Once reality is perceived as being metaphorical it should enable us to move between metaphors.
The 13 strong original Stuckist group was supposed to be “the first Remodernist art group” (that was what it said on the cover of the catalogue that was published with our second London exhibition) but instead of many different Remodernist groups springing up (there were few in Ireland and Greece) everyone started to call themselves Stuckists.
Finally, there is one misconception about Stuckism and Remodernism that I’d like to address. It has erroneously been said that we are anti “conceptual art.” In fact we ARE conceptual artists but we choose to paint, make, write the concepts that we are interested in and not just use ready made objects.
Some of the art that we were opposed to in the 1990’s, that was then being referred to by the art establishment as “Conceptual Art” turned out to be anything but conceptual. In a recent interview on BBC television Damian Hurst ,one of the YBA’s, said: “I hate art that makes me think” which is hardly the stance of a conceptual artist. On hearing those words, I felt, that we were vindicated.
It has been over a decade since we attempted to revive the Modernist experiment, perhaps it is now time to take this experiment further. It may be that we end up doing all the things that we say we are against, who knows? After all, you can never tell how an experiment will turn out.
Bill Lewis 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013
Quotes *, (2) , (3) from “Uncommon Wisdom” by Fritof Capra
Century Hutchinson Ltd, 1988
All rights reserved copyright Bill Lewis 2013
The right of Bill Lewis to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988