Life and Death (and everything in-between)


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+                                                     -
Life                          -                    Death
Con-   Syn-              -                    De-
Together                   -                   Apart
Multiply                   -                    Divide
Synergy                    -                   Entropy
Synthesis                  -                    Analysis
Induction                  -                    Deduction
Construct                  -                    Destroy
Concentrate              -                    Decentrate
Conserve                   -                    Deplete
Confirm                     -                    Deny
Centripetal                -                    Centrifugal
Attach                       -                     Detach
Close                         -                    Distant
Tight                          -                    Loose
Conservative              -                    Liberal



Stay on the left too long and we seize up, become a statue.
Stay on the right too long and we fall apart, lose ourselves.

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In all things there is a pull towards dissolution, and an opposite pull towards unification. This tug of war is everywhere, at all scales; from a society, to the bodies that make up that society, to the cells that make up those bodies.

It is the interchange between life and death.

Life is a combining of things; to preserve life, things must be kept together. Death, on the other hand, strives to pull those things apart.

When we look at a society we can see these processes. There are always those who pull towards the centre. These are the individuals who aim to preserve the status quo, who want to keep things as they are. We could call this a drive towards life, inasmuch as change would mean death to society in its current form, for it to be reborn in another. And of course, that new form would require its life force - those pulling inwards - in order to keep it healthy.

There are also those who pull in the opposite direction, towards the outside.  They want to pull society apart. We could call them change agents, and they represent the drive towards death, death being synonymous with change.

Neither of these are any better than the other. Context defines their value. When something is not working, when it must be pulled apart, then those that seek to keep it together could be described as dysfunctional. When something is working, and must be kept together, then the situation is reversed.

Status-quo agents will always insist that it is working; or that, at the very least, it is ‘okay’; that death is too extreme; that change is not necessary.

Change agents will always insist that it is not working; that it is never okay; that change is always necessary.

Perhaps it remains, then, to those that lie in-between to decide what is necessary; life, or death?

None of us are ever all for life, or all for death. We all contain both poles within us. However, it may be true to say that we contain them in differing amounts. So there will be some that are inclined towards the status quo in any given situation; who feel an urge to conserve and protect. And there are others who are more inclined to pull at the seams; to question and critique. So whilst we all lie in between life and death, some lie nearer to one than the other. It is their combination that produces balance, and health. It is, therefore, imperative for the health of any collective, that all voices are given an airing.

It is context that defines which voice is heeded in any given situation. If you have something that works then you would be wise to amplify those voices that seek to keep it together and to diminish those voices that seek to pull it apart. If you have something that does not work then the opposite is true.

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Barthes disapproves of any art that merely makes itself available to gratify its culture.

According to this view, Fisher-Dieskau is flattering petit-bourgeois society by offering it an image of its own perfection, of the sense of itself as perfect. He allows his talent to coincide with the particular kind of perfection a petit-bourgeois culture dreams of. Panzera’s art, apparently, set itself aslant its culture.

For the same reason, Barthes prefers Landowska to other harpsichordists, and Lipatti to other pianists: their playing is never flattened to perfection, they don’t add intention to the music or fuss over its every detail, contrary to petit-bourgeois art which, according to Barthes, is ‘always indiscreet.’

[…] Barthes argued that every aesthetic merit depends upon an interrogative and ultimately subversive relation between the art and its society. There should always be a certain recalcitrance.

[Denis Donoghue]
The Arts Without Mystery, p. 58



Those at the periphery are interested in deconstructing culture, rather than perfecting it. They seek alternatives to the status quo - new paths, new solutions, new forms. They adhere to the principle of destruction, and are moved by a centrifugal force.

Those at the centre adhere to the principle of creation, or consolidation, and are moved by a centripetal force. They are interested in the perfection of certain prescribed forms.

Barthes was, perhaps, someone who dwelled at the outskirts, and as such wasn’t interested in confirmatory, petit-bourgeois art. Barthes valued art as exploration, as a means to find alternatives to the conventional forms of the centre.

Donoghue paints him as a partisan, as someone who was committed to the ideals of the periphery to the exclusion of the centre. Accordingly, he doesn’t value art as confirmation: he insists that art always ought to be interrogative, subversive, and recalcitrant in its relation to society; that it ought never to be entirely enamoured. As a partisan, he cannot (or will not) see the value of his opposition; he cannot enjoy confirmatory art, it repels his sensibility (and his politics).

In Barthes’s view, society can never be entirely good, or good-enough; it must always be questioned.

It seems to me that society should be both questioned, and accepted. In other words, there must be those elements within it that confirm it, and those that deny it. Society itself exists as a tug of war between these factions. As with most partisans, Barthes, seemingly, can't admit to the value of his opponent; perhaps because to do so would be to weaken his hand. He is embattled; and in a battle any gesture of reconciliation may be turned against you. 


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Related posts:-
The Colour Wheel 
Centre / Periphery 
Abstract / Concrete
Balance
The Principle of Polarity
Status Quo 
You ought to be more like me
Concentrate
Making Connections
Connection
Separation  

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