“They just have a different reality tunnel, and every reality tunnel might tell us something interesting about our world, if we are willing to listen.”
— Robert Anton Wilson
What if the predicaments of our age were better faced, not by vain imaginings of being bailed out by a vague someone “who will think of something” but instead by looking to the treasure trove of the past? We are currently stuck staring at a wall inside of a dead end reality tunnel. What if instead we retraced our steps backwards until new choices in the reality labyrinth opened themselves up again? What if we turned around and looked for another solution to solve the next section of the maze?
Now is as good a time as any to choose to use our abilities as mental time travelers and meta-historians to explore who and what got tossed aside into the discard bin of history.
Let us now turn our attention to all the good weeds that were pulled out in favor of cultural monocrops. What if we set up a shop where the best ideas of the past were glued together in a synthesized bricolage? What if the universities were shut down in favor of coffee houses and salons? The supposed trickle down effect of higher education would be returned, along with the student debt, in favor of drip brewed and percolated knowledge.
These are the voyages of the intellectual traveler discontent with empty promises of going to Mars. Hell, we haven’t even been back to the moon since 1972. Meanwhile Musk has polluted the light of the stars in exchange for making a mere Faustian gesture. Technocracy continues to offer only diminished returns and increased surveillance. Let the silicon crumble into the dust of Janus’ ossuary. Let us reach further back, but instead of going faster, let us take our time and pirouette around forgotten avenues and the dreams of canceled inventors to piece together and assemble a collection of artifacts and use them to re-energize local intransigent cultures.
There IS a way to escape the stuck needle of the same old shale conundrum humanity has acquiesced to. What is needed is a logic defying devolutionary leap backwards. The new old primitives of tomorrow will shake off the manacles of reason and scientism and will be much happier than you or me. With an injection of slack jawed optimism, an appreciation for possibilities hedged out and hedged against by the luxury elite we can comb through the entries of the history books that others are forgetting to read and find ourselves holding those ancient relics of heresy that can restore the balance between Law and Chaos throughout the multiverse.
So let us travel backwards through Janus' ossuary and see what and who might be resurrected from saturn's crypt and returned to the stream of time.
It is with this in mind that I introduce a new series of posts with the working title of Great American Eccentrics.
In looking backwards to the past for inspiration on how to live now, those of us in America can do well to read up on the lives of those who have flourished living eccentric, weird, individualists and iconoclastic lives. (If you are interested in the background of WHY I am writing these notes on American weirdos you can read this post by John Michael Greer on Johnny Appleseed's America.)
THE ICONOCLASTIC SHENANIGANS OF HENRY FLYNT
In the world of philosophy, art and music there is no one to compare Henry Flynt with. Henry Flynt is an original philosopher and opponent of traditional science and mathematics. He is also the guy who created the term "concept art" but thinks that what other people have called "concept art" isn't really "concept art". As a nihilist philosopher and cultural tinkerer he is also a proponent of Anti-Art. What a concept.
Flynt's conception of concept art was conceived for the proto-Fluxus book An Anthology of Chance Operations, co-published by La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low. All of this evolved from his highly intellectual background in such fun subjects as logical positivism that he pursued as a teenager. Later when he went to college at Harvard and started hanging out with Tony Conrad he studied deep mathematics and started listening deeply to jazz and the music of John Cage. He'd been raised in North Carolina where he'd heard all kinds of hill music, but while at school he read (and probably listened to) The Country Blues by Samuel Charters. This book/album was to have a lasting effect on him. Armed with music and math he dropped out of college and went to New York to hang out with La Monte Young and take in the monthly concert series in Yoko Ono's loft.
All of these influences were brewing inside him and he crystallized them in his essay. The ideas were like lifeforms that grew out of cognitive nihilism and described an art in which the only material was concepts. Flynt drew exclusively on the syntax of logic and mathematics for his essay, and his concept art was meant to supersede both mathematics and the compositional and stylistic practices then current in the ever so "serious" art music circles. This thinker of deep thoughts maintains that for something to be considered concept art it has to be a critique of logic or mathematics in which the material itself is a linguistic concept. Since this quality is actually absent from most things that subsequently claimed to be "concept art", by his definition he says they are not concept.
Following this he moved on to hold a position as an anti-artist. Being an anti-artist isn't always the greatest career move, but in Flynt's case, it allowed him to forge his own path. To him the avant-garde, in associating with institutions such as MoMa, had become just another brick in the wall of the establishment. In 1963 he protested with Conrad and others against Karlheinz Stockhausen, whom he believed harbored totalitarian tendencies. In rallying and ranting against all this he created the neologisms veramusement and brend that he associated with pure instinctual recreation -art as an act of play pursued for its own sake outside of economic and market forces.
As part of Flynt's own recreation he liked to play music. His was an interesting mixture of contemporary compositional techniques, non-standard tunings alongside a healthy heaping of folk, country and blues music. Flynt was also student of classical Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath along with Young, Terry Riley, Don Cherry, Catherine Christer Hennix and a slew of others. Nath was a huge teacher of traditional raga and in particular the Kirana gharana singing style. Flynt took all this into himself and used it to play the strangest kind of hillbilly music I've ever heard. For these forays that merge the hollers of North Carolina with the dens of New York's freakiest musicians Flynt played guitar and violin and used tape techniques and a bit of minimalist sound processing. Some of his material has been recorded and released despite his anti-market stance. Albums like New American Ethnic Music, Hillbilly Tape Music, and Spindizzy are all worth checking out.
He also formed some bands in the 70's. NovaBilly was a rock, jazz, country and funk group. He also had the avant-jazz group Dharma Warrior that Catherine Christer Hennix and Arthur Russell were members of.
The work of Henry Flynt exists in its own orbit, forever on the fringe and over the edge of mainstream sensibility. If you find yourself in the mood for a bit of jazzed out minimalist country twang raga rock, you can do no better than seek out one of his recordings. If you should want some light reading to break open your head to the world of linguistic, mathematical and logical concepts his prolific essays on these and other matters are going to be what you want to dig into.
As the man said it himself, "A fully open mind could shatter the skull in both directions." I've found it quite pleasurable to open up my mind to his.
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Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.