[NetBehaviour] the zen koan and network reproduction

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Sun Dec 15 19:56:23 CET 2019

Hi all,

Comparing "Comedian" to the Mona Lisa, as DuChamp clearly compared his own work to that painting, has prompted for me the question "is the time appropriate for a new Renaissance, and if so, of what, and in what ways different from or similar to the one that Leonardo was painting in 500 years ago?"

"Comedian" could after all be in part a reference to the 500th anniversary of Leonardo now being celebrated across the art world.

The first Renaissance was of course a rebirth of art, science, literature, and philosophy framed by a rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman culture.  It was a rejuvenation and reinterpretation of the then-present facilitated in part by a new understanding and recognition of the past.

If viewed as a zen koan, which is not supposed to contain meaning but open up a door or post a sign pointing toward a wider awareness, "Comedian" could be comparable to the Mona Lisa in that both say "don't look to convention and doctrine; look to direct network practice in time of art and science, to your own lived experience in the now, and the network of all things past and present."  Koans after all are meant to prompt a vast network experience of past, present, future, and "the all," not to just duplicate the content of the koan.  In a sense they are meant to de-bug something that is blocking the evolutionary life of the network, including ourselves, from engaging with reality.

The Mona Lisa was a powerful jolt of present reality, verifiable science, and innovative art which confronted the doctrine and scholasticism of its day.  It was deliberately confusing while at the same time confrontational.  It too was meant as a koan to open up the unlimited vistas of human thought, expression, discovery, and communication.  It advised us to engage with process and with the present in a dynamic, ever-challenging evolution.  It is a finger pointing to the moon.

"Comedian" could also be a reference or allusion to what the Mona Lisa, La Gioconda, did for its time.  It does remove meaning from the artwork itself, essential saying "this work contains no meaning," but perhaps it does so in a way which can point to the independent pursuit of genuine meaning.  It does certainly say "look at all the twittering about me, the condemnation and confusion, the pretentious praise, the indignation, and ask what else there might be instead, if there could be anything of actual value instead, and if just the consternation itself is of value and is the best and only value possible in our dismal days."  Is this not similar to Leonardo's Last Supper, with the confused, distressed, and dithering apostles scrambling over what to make of Jesus' simple statement "one of you will betray me"?  But Leonardo's works were more defiantly confident and challenging it seems to me, less cynical, both more joyful and more serious perhaps just because they insisted success was blatantly achievable and not just the shallow type.  This is debatable of course, but in another sense, it isn't really debatable at all; it either is or it isn't and we each choose which universe we prefer to live in, one in which it is or one in which it isn't, and then we build that universe for ourselves.

But the Mona Lisa was a portrait of a person, and hence, a portrait of humanity, placed simultaneously in a setting of primordial pre-DNA nature, in the world with life and human civilization, and clothed in its myriad works, yet still vital in the present indeed looking straight at us who are also, arguably, living human beings too.  It is in a sense a koan which says "do you get it?" and laughs both at us and with us while we do or do not.

Both Duchamp's urinal and "Comedian" have been called self-portraits.  The banana+tape work is not titled "comedy," so, at least in title, it is a portrait.  Duchamp's portrait had a lot of content to it, as a urinal signed by a fake persona, as he himself wrote, and by so writing bringing the words R.Mutt and the words of his explanation into the networks-in-time of art history, pop culture, art criticism, politics, economics, or in a word, the networks of all networks.  I just looked up the following on Wikipedia, reading it for the first time, after having written the preceding paragraph, and noticed that the two share a simple phrase:

"Mutt comes from Mott Works, the name of a large sanitary equipment manufacturer. But Mott was too close so I altered it to Mutt, after the daily cartoon strip "Mutt and Jeff" which appeared at the time, and with which everyone was familiar. Thus, from the start, there was an interplay of Mutt: a fat little funny man, and Jeff: a tall thin man... I wanted any old name. And I added Richard [French slang for money-bags]. That's not a bad name for a pissotière. Get it? The opposite of poverty. But not even that much, just R. MUTT."

So, "Fountain" is in part a portrait and in part a joke of which we are asked "Get it?"; in other words it is a koan too.

As a koan, "Comedian" is an attempt to re-birth the past and the present in a livelier, better, more real fabric, a re-birth which the work has arguably nothing or almost nothing -- as little as possible and only as much as necessary -- to do with.

If society does "get it," then, there would be a different understanding of art past, present, and future, or, so to speak of "The Work of Art in the Age of Network Reproduction."  Even if the difference is infinitesimal, it is still different, a world where people or a person does "get it" and one in which a person or people does or do not.

Art in this view is not in the work, but in the network of all human phenonomena aesthetic and otherwise, past, present, and future, within which every work is figuratively speaking a zero-dimensional point having by itself no meaning whatsoever but in context being part of the constituent fabric of all meaning, thus having at best a potential for meaning.

One definition of a new Renaissance might be something like a symbiosis of western art and eastern art, of art and science, past present and future art from pre-antiquity to daily banter understood as network reproduction, a disruption of scholasticism and doctrine, a new appreciation of the human within accelerating economic and technological change, a relocation and decentralization of art from the static and orthodox to the network of everything and of all time, a revived appreciation and freedom of present-moment human awareness, activity, and meaning or what might one call actual human experience as opposed to duplications, technologies, and the like.

There are many theories and arguments stating that re-birth is a scientific impossibility.  Those might be true, but they might be false.  If they are false, what would be the falsification?   That is also the joke we are asked to get by La Gioconda, Fountain, and Comedian, maybe.  The existence of jokes also does not mean that we cannot also create tragedy, or that tragedy cannot occur, it's just saying that maybe sometimes both are OK or even that they are both important.  After all Fountain was created during one of the most tragic, destructive, horrific, and dismal wars in human history up to that point.

Best regards,


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <https://lists.netbehaviour.org/pipermail/netbehaviour/attachments/20191215/a9d7ea63/attachment.htm>

More information about the NetBehaviour mailing list