—Norman O. Brown
The old saying goes, When the world has gone mad, the sane appear to be mad. But it's not we who are insane, we're sane people in an insane world.
Of course, maintaining that awareness requires a certain degree of self-confidence, of belief in oneself and one's own inner compass. It's easy to get pulled off balance if you doubt your own sanity. As a character in a drama once said, though, I may act crazy sometimes, but I am not insane. Acting crazy is sometimes how you stay sane.
I propose that in the coming weeks you make an effort to get more accustomed to and comfortable with the understanding that the entire world is in the throes of utter lunacy. Once you are at peace with that, I hope you will commit yourself to the sacred kind of lunacy—the kind that bestows wild blessings and perpetrates unreasonable beauty and cultivates the healing power of outlandish pleasure.
Enacting sacred madness appeals to me just now. i've known for some months now, since the surgery, that making art is the one thing that has kept me alive, kept me sane, kept me going, even to the root level of having a reason to keep going, a reason to go on living and making art. There's a need for me to act a little crazy, just to stay sane. Of course, I get called crazy anyway, by the forces of mediocrity, merely for questioning them, and wanting to do things a little differently.
Sacred lunacy is just what the world needs right now. We all could use some sacred clowning by the heyoka spirits to get us back into balance, and get some perspective about how life has gone crazy these past few years. Truly, as the ancient Chinese curse goes, we are living in interesting times.
Loss of art is a social sin. With that deprivation our work life becomes distorted and violent, and so too does our leisure time. [Video] games that announce the killing of galaxies takes over. Or titillating sex. Or titillating news. Or titillating anything. Life can no longer be lived or celebrated in depth. Superficiality reigns.
We live in a dangerously over-stimulating time. We are inundated with noise, loud advertisements, bright and brilliant flashing lights on billboards and theatre marquees. We're encouraged to sit passively before our TV screens, or our computers, and passively absorb the entertainment beamed to us. And of course the loud, bright advertisements interspersed between the things you actually might want to watch.
Performance is life. Entertainment is death.
Entertainment is deadening. It is the opposite of life, because it requires no participation, merely passive absorption. Making art is performance, which is active. Even when listening to music, you can be an active listener or a passive one. Active listening engages with the music. Passive listening just lets it wash over you like a warm bath.
In addition to being overstimulated, we also live in times that are antithetical to art. Seriously, think about it. We are bathed in entertainment while at the same time fine art is disparaged as elitist and obscurantist. Some postmodern artists exacerbate this problem, of course, by indeed being elitist and obscure. Poets wonder why they have no audience, yet continue to write new work that requires specialist academic knowledge to comprehend: a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it's a chicken-or-egg dilemma, since for over a century now the lords of business have declared that only pragmatic, tangible products have any value, while other things have no value because they cannot be sold—and we've gone along with this belief, in our practice of monetizing everything, and determining value on sales. Great fine art of the past has sold for many millions of dollars. Art is only valued when it's a commodity, in this way of thinking. That's why entertainment is valued over fine art: it's easier to sell. And that's where the sin comes in, the social sin of losing art.
In this cynical climate, what could be more radical, what could be a more sacred act of madness, than to proclaim that beauty matters. Genuine beauty, not ironic, distanced, artificial beauty. The plasticized images of beauty seen in beauty pageants, pornography, or heavily-made-up icons of cinema are not what we mean by real beauty: those are all illusions. Real sex isn't pretty, because it's earthy. There is no airbrushing.
Beauty has to do with seeing all life as blessing, with returning blessing for blessing, with forging blessing of pain and suffering and tragedy and loss. Beauty needs to be made and remade. It is the vital work of the artist within ourselves. . . . I believe that beauty is better understood as an adjective than as a noun. Rather than pursuing the question, What is beauty? I believe it is more useful to ask the question, What are beautiful experiences you have had? And how can we forge more beauty from our common sharing of this planet? An inevitable consequence of asking such a question is the truth that beauty is simple and it is shareable.
It is finished in beauty.