An Artistic Commentary on
George Steiner's Real Presences
In Real Presences, Steiner desired to articulate the structure of mind through which a person could have the highest quality experience of art. He discussed our relationship to art in the terms of human relatedness. Steiner upheld ideas such as courtesy and hospitality in thinking about a human ethics of the reception of art. In this ethic, we do not need to be versed or immersed in theoretical academic abstractions in order to have a valuable experience of art. In the counter-platonic republic of artists, simple character traits of ordinary human relatedness have greater value to the depth of our understanding and experience of art than all the theories of all academia put together. This philosophy of human relatedness in the act of our communion with and interpretation of art also finds a home in Socratic dialogue. In part two of this essay, I will articulate a Socratic ethics of the reception of human beings, where simple virtues of human relationships have more power to create valuable understanding in our conversations with one another than all of our attachments to all of our theories of philosophy, politics, science and religion put together.
Regarding the ethics of the reception of art, Steiner noted his difficulty in describing "a plainly intelligible category in which morality, courtesy, perceptive trust can be seen to be nothing more than the concentrate of common sense." Towards a description of this category he wrote, "I am, in short, seeking to define a notion as plain as daylight, yet elusive and vulnerable as any in the finesses of psychology....'Courtesy of mind', 'scruple of perception', 'mannerliness of understanding' are rough approximations. " (Steiner p. 149) Steiner phrases the issue in terms of a human posture of "civility...towards the inward savour of things". He asks an important question:
"What means have we to integrate that savour into the fabric of our own identity?" (Steiner, p. 148-149)
I will describe the fundamental dynamic of mind through which the 'intelligible category' that Steiner sought to describe finds its fullest realization. This psychological dynamic is a necessary part of all possible answers to Steiner's question. This dynamic will be articulated through a description of the commonalities I see in the structure of artistic and academic talk, which renders an illustration of what I call the principle of common ground. It is the expression of this dynamic of mind, as it embraces both kinds of talk through the principle of common ground, that lights up the most fruitful way forward in our experience and interpretation of art. This dynamic of mind is also at the very heart of living an examined life. I will also answer Steiner's important question about integrating the inward savour of things into our identity in terms of a Socratic perspective on self knowledge.
The dynamic of mind that is a necessary component of all possible constructions of Steiner's "intelligible category" was first clear to me during an experience that wound up demolishing the boundaries between Steiner's imaginary counter-Platonic republic of artists and the secondary city of academics. In this experience I took a sabbatical and journeyed to the republic of artists. So, let's begin with a little artistic "chat" I had with a two composers, one arranger and a pianist.
A musical experience during the writing of this essay demonstrated that the issues of labor cost and secondary structure articulated in Steiner's criticism of the academic study of the arts also impacts the nature of artistic "talk". Hearing Valentina Lisitsa's Rachmaninoff performances during the writing of this essay inspired me to begin learning to play Rachmaninoff's 18th Variation from his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I am very moved by music and hearing her play Rachmaninoff was amazing. I immediately felt the desire to increase my experience of touching the keys of a piano for a musical purpose. In my attempt to embrace an artistic experience, I found that I lacked the investment of time and a proper focus on the original source work of art such that this lack raised the issues of labor cost and the secondary nature of academic commentary. Without writing a word, I created a "piano commentary" that manifested the structures Steiner observed in his criticism of the academic study of the arts. This experience caused the boundaries separating the secondary city and the republic of the primary in my mind to begin to collapse.
I have a habit of looking up to high standards and lofty goals towards which I desire to move myself. This habit of looking up has been the most fundamental benefit I received from adopting a "Socratic" perspective in my youth. In this perspective, we are fundamentally aware of and bound to the need to better ourselves. To increase our knowledge and skills is a primary adaptation to fulfill the need to discover ourselves.
As I prepared myself for discovery, I realized that I was not the most able student. I knew that it was unlikely that I would ever master the playing of Rachmaninoff to the point of being invited to play with an orchestra. In the knowledge of this deficit, I chose to use a solo piano adaptation of the 18th variation written by Eichhorn. At this point, I knew I was limiting myself to artistic talk about talk. As I began to learn to play this solo version of the 18th variation, it occurred to me that I was spending much less energy than it took Rachmaninoff to make himself able to create the beautiful 18th variation. Rachmaninoff's ability to musically comment on Paganini and on 20th century music reflects a lifetime of investment far beyond anything I can give. I was also spending far less energy than it took Eichhorn to make himself able to write his simplified solo piano adaptation of Rachmaninoff's composition. If Steiner's principle of evaluating the quality of our commentary through assessing the amount of labor spent has any use, I knew I was not going to come out looking good.
I have certainly spent much less energy responding to Rachmaninoff than has Lisitsa, who's performances influenced my own performance interpretation of the 18th variation. If you click on the Lisitsa link above, you will get a view of the immense effort that went into her artistic response to Rachmaninoff. As I first looked at the sheet music, I prepared myself to encounter artistic creation and performance expression of amazing quality in the knowledge that I could not hold up a candle to those who preceded me. Within my interpretive performance of Rachmaninoff's 18th variation, there is an artistic performance analogue on my part of cheap talk. As I recognized my musical ignorance, I did not become shy or too ashamed to try. All that is Socratic within me called me to joyfully accept the realization of my ignorance and to fully immerse myself in a new learning experience of self discovery. My inner Socrates always encourages me to take joy in my attempts to improve myself and seek new understandings, no matter how poor my abilities or knowledge may be as they impact my attempt.
As I proceeded, I realized that the similarity of my musical commentary to academic talk goes beyond the measure of energy spent. My interpretive performance of the 18th variation also manifests a structure similar to secondary academic discourse. As I learn to give an interpretive performance of this adaptation, I am creating an interpretation (my performance) of an interpretation (Eichhorn's adaptation) of an interpretation (Rachmaninoff's variation) of a source work of art (Paganini's Caprice No. 24 in A minor). Artistically speaking, my Paganini commentary on the piano is just talk about talk. Steiner laments that in all the bloom of secondary talk focusing on the work of other academics, a correct focus on the primary text or other art object is lost. I learned that the same structure exists in my artistic talk. By the time the propagation of artistic "talk" is reverberating through my performance, the primary "text", in this case the original Paganini Caprice, is only the "remote font of autonomous exegetic proliferation" (Steiner, p. 39). As Steiner said of academic books, the truth is that my artistic interpretive "tome" is more about "X's" (Rachmaninoff) and "Y's" (Eichhorn) work than Paganini's work. (Steiner, p. 39) There is more of Rachmaninoff, Eichhorn and Lisitsa in my artistic talk than Paganini. The secondary structure that Steiner criticized in academic writing is clearly present in my musical interpretation.
My performance "commentary" is similar in structure to the academic talk that Steiner sees in a negative light insofar as my artistic interpretation:
1.) focuses only on sources that ensure the original work of art remains remote to me
2.) spends less energy than those before me in the chain of creation and interpretation
My piano "commentary" on Paganini, focused as it is through the previous artistic talk of Rachmaninoff, Eichhorn, and Lisitsa, cheap as it is with regard to my comparative investment of energy, manifests the structures that Steiner sees in a negative light regarding academic commentary. What actually spares me from the sharpest criticism in Real Presences is that nobody will ever confuse me with the likes of Paganini, Rachmaninoff or Lisitsa because my "commentary" was created in a common medium or, if you will, a common ground. Embracing a common ground, which is the sharing of a common creative medium or the sharing of some common space in our relatedness to creativity helps us talk face to face. Within my commentary, music is speaking to music. Because my musical commentary is in the medium of music itself, the reality of my cheap and secondary talk is obvious. It does not require a PhD to see the difference between the cheap quality of what I offer and the superior quality of what Paganini, Rachmaninoff or Lisitsa offers. There is an amazing transparency provided for different expressions in a common medium. Like speaks unto like in the most transparent and fertile ways. Music speaks to music, novel to novel, poem to poem, and more generally creative act to creative act in ways that provide transparency, which is a natural result of meeting "the other" on common ground. Working on common ground with the source work of art provides useful transparency. My experience of participating in the propagation of artistic talk illustrates an important principle underlying Steiner's issues with the academic study of the arts, who's understandings of art are often predominantly forged in the absence of common ground with the arts they study.
Even though my artistic piano commentary contributes more to a primary knowledge of the aesthetic than any amount of academic word-smithing I could offer, there will be no hearers of my artistic cheap talk that will make the mistake of thinking that I have excelled beyond my artistic forbearers. However, within the communities of the academics, academic writing is founded on the self-concept of being the state of the art. The definition and identity of PhD level work is that, in order to be accepted, it must create an original contribution to knowledge that helps advance a field of study. The academic identity of working at the highest level in the knowledge of the aesthetic has greater ability to remain intact due to the fact that academic commentary is rarely created in the same medium as the art it talks about. Even typical academic writing on works of literature and poetry, being in the medium of words, is still a very different animal from the nature of creative writing. Working in different mediums makes assessing the relative value of medially diverse works that attend to human aesthetics more difficult.
The similarities between academic and artistic talk travels in both directions. As my artistic talk manifested structural similarities to the secondary academic study of the arts, so the academic study of the arts, even in the forms fully vulnerable to the criticisms in Real Presences, can be conducted with the character of human excellence that Steiner wants to uphold for art. In their excellent aspirations to have their work thrive and to succeed in the conventions of their field, academics open themselves with genuine courtesy and hospitality to the task and resources at hand. This is often done in the best spirit seen by Steiner as needed in relation to a quality reception of the arts. Steiner wrote that "the informing agency is tact" (Steiner, p. 148). Through a "tact of heart", we allow the objects of our attentions to connect with us. To touch and be touched by an experience of art is the life essence of the "plainly intelligible category" that steiner seeks to express in relation to art. The problem with the academic study of the arts is not fundamentally an issue of academics lacking "tact of heart" in allowing the real presence of others to connect with them. It is an issue of focus. There are more real presences in life than the subject of the arts can contain. What constitutes this tact of heart? The disciplines for the enriching qualities that come with tact of heart in our response to art, according to Steiner, exist in the "spaces of sensibility" between two ideas, which are:
" Valéry's dictum that syntax is a constituent element of the human spirit, and the observation of the seventeenth-century theologian and metaphysician Malebranche, that rigorous attention is 'the natural piety of the soul'" (Steiner, p. 155-156)
It is the natural piety of academia to give its rigorous attention to advancing our knowledge and understanding of the arts. This academic attention is often richly alive and open to the real presence of the others the academics recognize and greet in their work. However, their philological instincts are not solely focused on primary texts and other art objects, but are instead often expressed and fulfilled through a focus on the explications of the languages, structures and histories of academic theory. The philology of the theoretical demands just as much courtesy of recognition and hospitality of reception as do the primary texts and art objects they seek to study. The massively theoretical focus of much of the academic study of the arts causes their best sensitivities for syntax to lose touch with the native languages in which the arts, both verbal and non-verbal, are formed, expressed and received. Their syntactical sensitivities are often excessively focused on the rules and arrangements of order through which new academic theories are constructed, validated, and applied. The languages of the theoretical, with their amazing capacities to create new ideas and frameworks of understanding, also brings forth an "other" that has a real presence of its own.
Even in the most abstract and secondary academic criticisms, "the others", which the academic recognizes in the theoretical, can be reified into a "communicative presence" through the hospitable reception of the academic and gains the power to join with her in the transformation the her readings of texts and other arts. This power is not just as an external frame of reference, but can invoke the same experience of immediacy, of intimate visitation and involuntary binding, that Steiner relates through Coleridge's idea of the "'hooked atoms' of mental association" about the power of art to penetrate and affect us. In the academic study of the arts, the other that we find in the theoretical also "comes to call on us" to "fulfill needs we knew not of". The real presence of the other found in the theoretical can also enter into the mind and heart of academics, bringing them within reach of their own "nativity of consciousness", but leaving us with the question of its capacity for depth. The academic interpreter of literature and the arts often answers the call of the theoretical and receives its entry with the same openness, courtesy of recognition, and hospitality of reception that Steiner insists must be foundational to a quality experience of the arts. The same courtesy and hospitality that Steiner sees as necessary to experience the rich depth of meaning and beauty in the arts is, through a shift in focus, also part of the gateway of entrance to the secondary city. Just as the structure of my Rachmaninoff, Eichhorn and Lisitsa mediated artistic commentary on Paganini manifests commonalities with the structure of academic discourse, so academic discourse in its most theoretical abstractions has commonalities with the spirit of artistic creation and the hospitable reception of art.
It is the phenomenon of identity, focus, and the binding courtesies in the academic process of being hospitably attentive to the theoretical that drive the negativities, which concern Steiner. This is the underlying human psychology, which moves the academic study of the arts towards its languishing decay in the secondary city. The compulsion to create excellence of knowledge and understanding through the medium of the theoretical often fails when it comes to the knowledge of the aesthetic, even as the academic self-concept of striving for the cutting edge of better understanding remains steadfast. This failure is fed by a habit of focus that Steiner calls the "humanistic imitation of the sciences". (Steiner, p. 36) The academic study of the aesthetic seeks to imitate the nature of scientific study, but is unable to apply the model of scientific study to aesthetics. The academic study of the arts also cannot replicate, in a way that is assumed in the natural sciences, the methods for "answerability to poetic and artistic shaping" (Steiner, p. 37) that matches the scientific transmission of research methods from one generation to the next. We can reliably identify the exact structure of a water molecule and teach future generations of scientists how to confirm these results. We cannot identify the exact meaning of a poem and teach future interpreters of art how to reproduce such results. The attraction of the scientific constrains our attentiveness in art. Our scientific habits may help us keep tempo with the rhythm of the music, but they cannot hear the rapture of the melody.
In spite of the inability to successfully imitate science, the academic drive to advance our understanding of art makes for a satisfying experience. The deeply satisfying sacraments in the academic experience of actually creating new ideas and advancing the knowledge of this or that framework of understanding casts its spell, resulting in visions of theoretical beauty that become the foundations of delusions of completeness regarding the knowledge of the aesthetic. This is a problem because the typical academic mode for the study of the arts is innately incomplete regarding the human understanding and experience of the aesthetic. The structure of this incompleteness and its relationship to the psychology of human thriving is key to understanding the dilemma Steiner faces with the academic study of the arts.
In the midst of the thriving of academia, the extraordinary bloom of abstract academic language and theories in the drive to better our understanding of literature and the arts also leads to dimensions of infertility. The sterilization of our most fruitful understanding and experience of the arts is mediated through the stylings of academic focus that led to excessive theoretical abstraction and a diminishment of our full human cognitive diversity in the study of the arts. Steiner writes,
"The mushrooming of semantic-critical jargon, the disputations between structuralists, post-structuralists, meta-structuralists and deconstructionalists, the attention accorded both in the academy and the media to theoreticians and publicists of the aesthetic - all these carry within their bustling pretense the germs of more or less rapid decay. 'Fashion is the mother of death' (so Leopardi)" (Steiner p. 48)
The academic habit of producing a particular type of semantic-critical jargon repeats with greater frequency to the extent that this habit meets with success. When a bloom of that habit collapses under its own weight, the repetition of academic habit is halted or reduced. The "mechanics of inflation" that Steiner relates to the mushrooming of parasitic secondary criticism and meta-criticism in the academy also has a root in the human heart that is one with our will to thrive and survive, but is limited to the conventions of its necessary expression. When the academic study of the arts becomes subsumed to the academic study of academic theory about the arts, it can be said that the human experience of the arts had died. But the academics do earn a paycheck to pay for their survival and they do feel the satisfaction of creating new variations and applications of theory, which is art in itself. Many theorists of the arts do have the personal graces in relationship to the theoretical that Steiner wants to see focused on art itself. It is the focus that is the crux of the issue. The most fundamental and compelling driver of human focus and mimesis is our own survivalism. When life challenges us, we have a powerful instinct to repeat that, which works in favor of our thriving. The habits that we find securing our success, satisfaction and comfort lift us up in our visions of thriving and surviving but also tear us down. To understand how this tearing down occurs in the context of diminishing our experience of art, we must ask another question. What are the forces within our instincts for repetition that make it so easy to drop our gaze from the most challenging and beneficial encounters with art and beauty?
Why is it easy to abort a deeper encounter with art and replace it with modes of experiencing art that only touch art at a secondary distance?
Steiner suggests an answer to this question on the next page after the above quote:
"The secondary is our narcotic. Like sleepwalkers, we are guarded by the numbing drone of the journalistic, of the theoretical, from the often harsh, imperious radiance of sheer presence. Beauty can, indeed, be 'terribly born', as Yeats says."
The "imperious radiance of sheer presence" in relation to being "terribly born" is the idea that beauty may arise from horrible circumstances. Even beyond its birth, beauty walks hand in hand, day by day, with the horrors of life. Beauty is not only terribly born, it can also terribly exist. Here, Steiner's comment touches upon the impact of our instinct to survive and protect our sensibilities. However, this reluctance to face beauty is based on a deeper reluctance. This reluctance has deep roots in the fact that we are embodiments of the beauty of life and fear facing ourselves to the full measure of which we are capable. The knowledge of our own being is our primary experience of beauty. We learn to be content to understand ourselves only partially and at a comfortable distance. We choose to limit our self knowledge to that which helps us survive and be comfortable. We fear the full depth of self knowledge and in that fear we learn to be intimidated by all beauty. At the heart of the human dilemma with aesthetics is the Yeats reference. At the heart of the human condition is our need to learn to face the full beauty of ourselves and of life. Beauty is often 'terribly born' with a side order of freakshow from hell. However, our own capacity to know beauty, which is our capacity to know ourselves, is even more horrifying. In this hell, our depth, beauty, sensitivity, and genius of attentiveness is forced down into a more constrained and limited stance by our need to survive. This learned passivity is the most prominent component of why we learn to be content with experiencing art through the lens of the secondary. This learned passivity goes way beyond issues with the academic and journalistic talk about the arts. Watching sports on TV is vastly preferred to participating in sports in the U.S.. The stunning dominance of passive entertainment and the passive consuming of products and services, which are the Brave New World offered to U.S. citizens as a replacement for active citizenship, is also a result of our lack of will to be fully self aware and to face our own and all beauty as we gain self knowledge. Passive distractions that hold keep our attention from the essential task to gaining self knowledge are sold at a discount in every shopping mall. Deep down, we often think we are not competent, skillful, knowledgeable, or good enough to face, examine and test ourselves to the full. One way or another we believe we do not have the power we need to do it with enough benefit to make the investment worth while.
The relationship between beauty and horror is fundamental to human living. Nietzsche believed that the measure of the strength of a human being is the measure of her capacity to face the horror of the truth. Is it really the horror we fear? Nobody can lose greatly without first possessing greatly. One cannot be hurt deeply without first having sensitivities capable of being hurt. Horror and the perception of evil in life are not the problem, they are an after effect of the compromise of our sensitivity. The problem is the beauty and sensitivity of life itself. It is overwhelming, even in peaceful times. The beauty of life, with its extraordinary sensitivity and delicate energy, is demanding and consuming. The prospect of being fully self aware and highly attentive to life often makes us feel like a deer that is caught and frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car. It takes a lot of work and time to cultivate the fullness of our conscious being to its full potential. Often, life cannot afford this. Attaining self knowledge is difficult because there is so very much to face and process in the knowing. We are often put into the position of deciding between our need to know the full beauty, sensitivity, intelligence, and virtue of our own being and our need to give our attentiveness to the immediacy of the task of surviving. The immediacy of the demands that art places on our full attentiveness collides with our sense of the immediacy of the demand of life to survive. The secondary allows us to conserve energy, to experience a more peaceful and easy form of art. It is easier to be passive. There is a more organized and manageable workload in mastering a measure of theory and trying to put the whole world of richly diverse art into a nutshell of academic theory, than there is to face the wild invitation of art to learn of ourselves in new ways. Prioritizing the economics of survival is not invalid. If we die today, there is no self knowledge and no beauty of art tomorrow. The two work together and also compete with one another. Nobody can give their attentions to the full measure of beauty in life when our energies to survive in the manners we have learned demand our attentiveness be more selective. When the fullness of our rich attentiveness is pulled back to compensate, we experience a reduction in our own cognitive diversity as we focus on our chosen immediacies. Learning to gain self knowledge and to experience art with human depth is about learning to hold back the tide of contracting attentiveness as much as is possible within the constraints of our survival. This is a matter of losing our fear of gaining self knowledge. Facing art is not the problem. Our problems with having an authentic and deeply human embrace of art is just an after effect of the compromise of our will to fully know ourselves.
Much the the history of humanity, in giving their attentiveness to the need to survive, placed that focus on the attainment of power. In Nietzsche, for example, his concept of the "will to power" as a central or fundamental principle of humanity must give way to something more suitable to the full extent of our intelligent thriving. Power is a pragmatic necessity, but it is merely the mechanism of action for something else. The fundamental driving force of sapient thriving is more usefully described as the "will to beauty". It is not power, but beauty that is our greatest drive and tyrant. In regard to facing our greatest challenges, it is not the strength of arms but the weakness of our own children's beautiful sensitivity that lights the unquenchable fire to stand up and achieve in the midsts of conflicts. It is the extraordinary sensitive, ingenious, beautiful and vulnerable inner child in each of us that cries out to demand a nurturing space to live and move to express our instinct to fulfill our own beauty. We are fundamentally compelled to strive for the establishment, preservation and thriving of our aesthetic capacities in a way that permeates the fabric of our living. From our simple need to feel good because we are healthy, to our love of the beauty of nature, to an interpretation of a sonata, the human need to give energy to the fulfillment of our aesthetic sense has been foundational to thriving in every social and historical context that humanity has ever lived. Even the mere promise of beauty is capable of driving us to the ends of the earth. There is spirit of heart within us that is in possession of virtues akin to Keats' negative capability such that we are able to face the horror, to live in frightening ambiguity, and to face the mystery of it all with an undiminished will to thrive because "beauty overcomes every other consideration".
Power makes the journey possible, but beauty is where we want to go. The human will to beauty can express itself with depth and fearlessness in a painting or in the creation of a new academic theory. However, neither the artist nor the theoretician can deeply embrace the beauties of their choosing nor provide hospitality to the real presence of the others they must greet in their pursuit of beauty without having a blinder placed aside their eyes to help the focus. The dark truth is that becoming too comfortable with the beauties we cultivate in our living makes our relationship to beauty less able to grow. Complacency with our beauties diminishes our relationship to beauty because the truth of beauty is not pretty. The greater our capacity for beauty, the greater must be our ability to be afflicted. Comfort with our success at survival is an enemy to our will to gain self knowledge. Satisfaction binds us to stasis. To attain complete and perfect beauty would be to become poisoned like stagnant water. Too much rapture, too much contentment, and the human will to learn of what remains unknown within us dies. It dies because we are compelled to embrace beauty, satisfaction, feeling good, and the confidence of peaceful continuity. When this embrace becomes a stylized set of habits, we have simply created a false mask to wear as we repeat what we think we know will get us to the beauty we seek. In the embrace of our habits we tend to abandon the imperative to continue to transform and grow. The delusion of having enough beauty eclipses our full potential for beauty.
The beauty of life demands that we remain on the move. Developing a capacity to relate to beauty with depth requires that we participate in a lifelong journey to continuously gain self knowledge. For it is in the formidable and agonizing journey to acquire self knowledge, that all of our capacities to embrace the beauty that we find in art and life are terribly born. There is so very much that is unknown and unexplored within each one of us. We are far more intelligent, imaginative, sensitive, creative, and beautiful than the meager survival standards, upon which our various human civilizations insist. Dr. Suzuki, creator of the Susuki method, said that what we call average is only what is minimally required to just get by in society and what we call genius is the real average. Buckminster fuller said that we are all born geniuses, but life quickly de-geniuses us. We are all born saying "Yes!" to the task of gaining self knowledge, but learn to abandon our commitments to the fundamentals of this task as we focus on the specifics of survival. As we gradually abandon the vigor and persistence of our natural born drive to gain self knowledge, our capacity to face the "imperious radiance of sheer presence" that the beauty of life imposes upon us dies a death of attrition. We give more energy to repeating what we have determined works for us in the immediacy of our survival than we give to discovering all that remains unknown within us. This choice of commitment is antithetical to the spirit of artistic creation. This choice is an enemy to our capacity for depth in our experience of beauty in art and life. Art does not exist to invite us to constrain the whole of our attentiveness to routine habits. Art invites us to expand the diversity of our personal horizons because it asks us to embrace the beauty of life and to face what remains unknown within us. We are strangers to ourselves and art is very good at pointing this out. We are compelled to beauty. It is a fundamental instinct of life. Yet, the more we strive towards beauty, the more our habits of thriving can blind us. The more we repeat our habits of striving towards beauty in an unconsidered manner, the more we fashion masks to wear that help us to be comfortable abandoning our commitment to the continuing acquisition of self knowledge. We mistake the masks we wear for our full self. Even if we have responded responsibly to the call of art to unmask ourselves in our attentiveness to art, the instant those habits of attending become routine we have simply created another mask to replace the old mask. Perhaps there are no other options. Our journey towards self knowledge and beauty may indeed be a series of masks that we wear.
How does a new mask, which used to be the fresh face of our attentiveness to art, become an old mask that blinds us during the brutish insistence of our habits? The beauties upon which we have fixed both our attentive gaze and our diligent labors are both the holy grail of our thrivings and the greatest blinders in our life. The great challenge to thriving in life, to the extent that cognitive diversity is vital to our capacity for depth in the knowledge of our self and in our experience of art, is that survival forces us to restrain our attentiveness and reduce our overall cognitive diversity in order to be able to successfully repeat the things we need to do daily in order to survive and thrive. Here, our own complacency with the feel and rhythms of our own habits of embracing beauty, cultivated in the context of our survival, becomes an enemy to the continuing diversity of our explorations. When we continuously repeat our habits of embracing our sense of what is beautiful without variation, we reject life's need to continue in our journey of gaining self knowledge and deny art's invitation to open up to the possibility of something new. Life is a journey of self discovery. Art invites us to realize the need self knowledge and the need to remain persistent in our quest. The most common pattern of giving up on our journey of self discovery is the false belief that we know enough. The surety of knowledge kills our desire to discover new knowledge. If we believe our habits of seeking and facing beauty are sufficient, we will never move beyond them. If we think we know what justice and virtue really are, we will never seek to better our understanding of the justice and virtue of our human character. The presumption of knowledge is a great obstacle to living a thoughtfully examined life and a detriment to our relationship to beauty. In the academic study of the arts, it is the presumption of knowledge, which goes mostly unchallenged due to its application not being conducted on common ground with the arts they claim to know and study, that is the primary foundation of the problem which concerns Steiner in Real Presences. Most people belief that life is more than survival. This means that our self knowledge and our capacity to face beauty must be more than what is required merely to not fall over.
At this time, I present to you what I consider to be the fundamental epistemology of human depth in aesthetics. It is based on the principle that in order to understand a structure, one must look to see what underlays all possible manifestations of that structure. Is there a "mask" that must be present continuously throughout our lives in order for all the other masks we wear to give us fertility in our quest for beauty? Socrates gave me the answer to this question. Socrates was famous for believing that he was ignorant. He said, "The only thing I know is that I know nothing." (from Epictetus) It is Socratic ignorance, when upheld as a continuous personal philosophy of knowledge through the course of living an examined life that holds the the most fundamental key to improving the human relationship to beauty. If we always recognize that our knowledge can be improved, that our character can develop, that our capacity for beauty can be enriched, it is much more difficult to resign ourselves to the complacency of comforting habits. Socrates' ideal of living an examined life was based on the recognition of his ignorance. In the context of the academic study of the arts, this complacency takes the form of preferred habits of perception and theory that dominate the academic's experience of art. Here, a limited slice of human cognitive potential is given the lion's share of responsibility for interpreting art. In academic theory, the passion of the expert is to fit a world of art into a nutshell of established knowing. Many academics would not have the time in their professional work for Socratic like questions such as, "What is beauty?" and "What is art?". You can't keep publishing a new papers utilizing your latest application of theory if you keep questioning your most basic understandings, unless of course your paper is about basic understandings. Yet, the essence of the artistic is to fundamentally reconsider and reinterpret previous experiences and views through the eyes of a new experience. We must be open to possibilities of experience and interpretation that defy our previous understanding. The ultimate posture of hospitality to art is to come to art as a novice. This does not mean that we forget everything we are, but have an open posture of mind capable of setting aside everything we are in order to make room for something new as we give our full attention to art. Shunryu Suzuki (a different Suzuki) said in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few." Socratic ignorance is the ancient Greek philosophy equivalent of prioritizing the beginner's mind. For Socrates, the realization of his ignorance meant that his quest for knowledge would never end. As Socrates was not interested in purely theoretical abstractions of the knowledge of justice and virtue, but wanted to apply that knowledge to his living, his quest for knowledge was a quest for self knowledge.
Socrates was always in the presence of a society that lived too much in the belief that they embraced sufficient knowledge. Apart from the technical knowledge needed for the practical purposes of the day, sophists claimed to be able to give knowledge of the skill of persuasive rhetoric in public speaking that often passed for a more substantive useful knowledge. However, the sophists did not actually teach knowledge about the subjects of public discourse. They only taugh about the opinions of things and the skills to manipulate opinions through talk. A basic characteristic in the work of the sophists of Socrates' day was this presumption of knowledge. When I wanted to explore Steiner's thesis on the problem of the academic study of the arts, I could have gone to the modern theoretical persuaders of literature and art to see how Steiner's ideas stood up. These teachers of the abstract knowledge of the arts have a great deal to say that is impressively well developed. In contrast to some of the sophists of Socrates time, there is significant value in their work. Yet, that value is not enough to overcome the problem of the presumption of knowledge, which in essence is what Real Presences discusses. The deeper problem was that I am a Socratic philosopher. I spent decades realizing that I did not have the answers to basic questions like, "What is justice?" and "What is beauty?". The truth is that I would have been more comfortable with the academics. My capacity for language, ideas, and abstract thinking has been exercised for a long time. I can talk theory about music far more impressively than I can perform music. My habits of abstract analysis have been repeated for a very long time. However, my experience as a Socratic philosopher and my reading of Steiner convinced me that I could not come to a deeper knowledge of beauty in art by thinking about it. I had to touch it, live it, and walk on the same ground that the creators of artistic beauty walked. So instead, I took a trip to Steiner's counter-Platonic republic of artists, the republic of the primary. Instead of consulting with theorists, I touched the keys of a piano and consulted with the artistic expressions of Paganini, Rachmaninoff, Eichorn, and Lisista. Their musical poetry were expressions of thought and human experience that spoke differently than the theories of the arts spoke. These musical philosophers did not let me get away with my cheap talk. I could not hide my distance from the full and rich depth of their artistic creation in smooth sounding details of the talk of theory. The transparencly of touching common ground, of allowing music to speak to music, clarified the truth of things in a way that talk cannot.
The advantage of of taking a sabbatical in the republic of artists in order to study Steiner's thesis is that my work there quickly made things very clear. For me, a fundamental principle of aesthetics is that most important truths in life are not abstractions, they are lived realities that offer living beauties. Living in the republic of artists showed me truths that the academics cannot teach. The problem Real Presences addresses is answered by Steiner by his insistence that the full depth of our experience of art comes from a personal and living experience of art that touches the full scope of our human capacities. It cannot come when the experience of art is artificially constrained to the movements of theory.
Seeking visitations upon common ground with art alters our experience of art, our interpretations of art, and our interpretations of our interpretations. When creative act speaks to creative act upon common ground, the fertility of this communion resonates with both clarity and depth. It is the principle of working on common ground, of sharing a common space, that ensures that my "Paganini commentary" will clearly be seen as artistic cheap talk. It is this same principle of common ground that underlies Steiner's emphasis on the superior depth of quality in commentary that is created when James Joyce reads Homer's Odyssey through Ulysses, or when Henry James re-reads George Eliot's Middlemarch through The Portrait of a lady, or when the words in a Verdi opera offer a criticism of a Shakespeare play. (Steiner p. 13-14) It is when we meet the other on common ground, and engage in the hospitable sharing of common space, that we embrace the greatest authenticity and fertility in our communions with one another. The principle of common ground is foundational to the depth and quality of human experience in every aspect of life. This depth and quality is realized when we share with one another our quests for self knowledge in art and in all life. If their lives suffered from too little self knowledge, James Joyce, Henry James, George Eliot, and Verdi could not have done anything of excellence. In a life completely devoid of self knowledge, we cannot even tie our own shoelaces. It was also my own habits of seeking self knowledge that enabled me to set myself up to fail my established standards as an artist and yet pull out meaning and beauty from my failure, which is the ultimate artistic success.
It is the transparency offered by the common ground of a common medium of creation that gives us our greatest potentials for understanding. The embrace of new differences, visions, variations and interpretations that are created in a hospitably shared space reflect our full engagement of the real presence of the other in art. The transparency that exists between expressions in a common medium makes it impossible for me to acquire delusions of excellence or completeness in my Paganini commentary. It is the lack of this transparency that arises from the lack of common ground, which is a natural result of increasing theoretical abstraction, that obscures the incompleteness of much of the academic study of the arts. Academic theorists, who are full of jargon and abstract theories, can too easily find themselves investing energy in a medium of creation that has little or no common ground with the artists or artistic works they study.
This is why an overemphasis of the theoretical, insofar as it leaves too little room for our own direct and cognitively diverse experience of art, cannot connect us to the full depth of the human experience of meaning and beauty in the arts. In order to open ourselves up to the meaning that the real presence of art offers to us, we must willfully step into the shared space of common ground. If that space is lacking, it must be created. Such space with one another is created when we are active in our own quest for self knowledge and offer hospitality to the other to share their self knowledge with us. This requires a mental fluidity of give and take. The engergy we spend knowing ourselves works with and competes with the energy we must spend knowing the other in art and life. In these competing demands on our attentiveness, we can become more flexible and fluid in our attentiveness. This fluidity is the fundamental dynamic of mind through which the 'intelligible category' that Steiner sought to describe finds its fullest realization. Our love of art and our love of the theoretical must create, between themselves, their own shared "spaces of sensibility". Our love for the others we find in the theoretical must step aside when we recognize that we need to give time and attention within the common grounds we share with the others we find in the arts, so that our communion with art may bloom to also "fulfill needs that we knew not of" even in the midst of our theorizing. Our love for the others we find in a more primary experience of art must step aside to honor our need to embrace a hospitality to the theoretical so it may give to us the things that our primary experiences of art lack.
This fluid capacity for give and take, for waxing and waning, between the attentive sensibilities of our shared spaces between our primary embracing of art and our ability to rise to the heights of theoretical abstraction, is how we create a common ground within our own mind that affords to us a hospitably shared space for our living, creating, receiving experiences of art and our capacity for theoretical abstractions. This fluidity is also a necessity of attentiveness as we attend to the differencs that other people, world views, and life circumstance brings into our presence. This dynamic fluidity of mind is the "plainly intelligible category in which morality, courtesy, perceptive trust can be seen to be nothing more than the concentrate of common sense" (Steiner, p. 148). Steiner could not find adequate words for this because it is neither a category nor, as Socrates would likely step up to remind us, what it "is". This fluidity of mind is what underlies the human capacity to continue in gracious attentiveness at a tea party because it does not stop to become fixated upon the discourtesy that was offered to it. It is the same fluidity of mind that does not dwell on the sword of an enemy and by remaining unfettered, allows the samurai swordsman with a predilection for Zen philosophy to win the day.[9.5] It is the principle that allows for grace in mundane details, such as how we integrate our toilet training and other necessary ablutions into the correspondences of our daily lives, and also makes our greatest capacities for creation possible.
Embracing both, not being fixated on the primacy of artistic experience, not dwelling exclusively in the theoretical is the fundamental motion of energy needed so that we do not become stagnant. To be able to move from one thing to another, to allow the mind that never stops to remain deeply attentive in all its motions, is the governing power of all "civility towards the inward savor of things" (Steiner, p. 148). To be able to maintain the most rigorous attentiveness in the face of extraordinary diversity, both from within and from the external, without running over the inward savor of the smallest details like a bull in a china shop is the chivalry of sapience. It is the gentle walk of powerful attentiveness amongst the diverse landscapes of cognition within us that makes the fertility of embracing both our most deeply human experiences of art and our most mind numbingly abstract theorizing greater than living full-time in either the republic of the primary or the secondary city. This principle of fluidity is the basic flow of energy that gives wings to the virtues associated with Keats' negative capacity to thrive in the midst of horrific ambiguity, empowering us to eagerly seek out the sight of the "imperious radiance of sheer presence".
This dynamic of mind is not wholly reducible to fluidity. It is not merely the capacity to shift our attention that brings to us the fullness of the beauty of art. Too much fluidity simply reduces the useful complexities needed for substantive interpretation to an overly homogenized cognitive paste. There is no hospitality to any others in the context of ever shifting attentiveness. This dynamic of mind is a dance between our fluidity of mind and our capacities for the rapt attentiveness of meticulous focus. The heart of philology voices the song of its longing for beauty in rapt attentiveness to every detail. But the tempo of the music is constrained to the beat of our need to wear many masks as we exercise our capacity to bring radically diverse frameworks of understanding and experience to bear in a fully human act of interpretation. To be fully human in our interpretations of art, we must taste the expressiveness of the fullness of our cognitive diversity.
In that hospitably shared common space of such diverse yet focused and intimate sensibility, the loves we have of both art and theory may join together to walk upon common ground in their discovery of one another. In the fluid and courteous sharing of common space they may learn of the ways in which they may speak to one another not unto decay within the secondary city, but unto a deepening of life within a springtime of rigorously attentive fertility. The principle here is the functioning of a deep and abiding toleration for extraordinary cognitive diversity that frees us from excessive attachment and fixation upon our preferred modes of thought and experience. Excessive attachements to our habits, whether it is our theoritical methods or any habit of life, evokes too much repetition that fly in the face of the artistic human spirit's will to the creation of variation. Our innovative will to beauty only flows to richer depths if we have not become complacently frozen in the over repetition of our habits. This willful and abiding toleration frees us to move gracefully amidst the shared fertile space within us, where all the harmonies, chaos, and contradictions that will ensue as the diversity of direct artistic experience, our capacity for theoretical abstraction and our personal differences dance together to the music of human hospitality. To become mindfully fluid in a fertile way first requires a 'Courtesy of mind', 'scruple of perception', and 'mannerliness of understanding' to the interiority of our own minds as we engage our will to self knowledge. There are far more details, harmonies, contrasts of rhythm, and themes of organization in one human mind than can be found in the collected works of Rachmaninoff or Beethoven. As much as Steiner knows that we must give our full and hospitable attention to the others we greet in art, we must offer the same hospitality to the others that exist in our own minds. This hospitality requires a fluidity of mind capable of embracing all the differences and strangers that we find within us. The first step of hospitality in assuring a quality experience of art is not in its offer to art. The first step is the offer of hospitality to the common ground and space we share with all that is unknown within us. Jesus taught that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This principle also means that we must be hospitable to art as we are hospitable to our own will to self knowledge. Buddism teaches that excessive attachement is a cause of most unecessary suffering. Excessive attachement to our own theories, habits of perception, and modes of attentiveness regarding art causes the quality of our experience of art to suffer.
The waxing and waning of our attentiveness between our loves of art and theory is not a measure of variance in linear intensity, but a measure of variation in the diversity of the cognitions that "light the lamp at the window" (Steiner, p.149) for our repeated visitations with art. If our journey toward beauty is indeed a series of masks we wear, then we must be willful and knowledgeable in the shapes and potentials of our own cognitive diversity. Languishing in the secondary city is to be like a cow repeatedly chewing its own cud. The academic ruminations of the secondary do create new variations. Indeed the cud is a little different each time it is regurgitated. However, the reality of a feeding cow is insufficiently complex to compare to the feeding of the artful sapience of a human being. Our visitations with art require much greater cognitive diversity. The human dance of changing of our masks, the habit of always seeking a new and fresh face in our communions with art without losing our capacity for meticulous focus, is a cognitive dynamic at the very center of what it means to live out the message of Real Presences. It is also the human face of living an examined life.
I do not mean to imply that we must create, perform, or be theoretically oriented to art in order to have deeply meaningful or authentic experiences of art. A quality experience of art is not fundamentally related to creating an academically state of the art interpretation. A genius for creating art is not a prerequisite for a human experience of creative beauty. The quality of our experience of art is about the human character of our communion with art. The receiver of art also steps onto common ground when she opens herself up to experience something new. There are no perquisites of learning or developed artistic ability needed to have a deeply meaningful and high quality experience of art. The non-creating, non-performing, non-theorist receivers of art must simply offer the courtesy of making room for something new in their minds. They must give forth their hospitality to the artistic other by freely giving their full attentiveness and by allowing themselves to be significantly affected by their experience of art. In order to step into the common space that is needed to touch upon the depth of meaning and beauty that art may lead us to experience, we do not need artistic skill or a PhD. We simply need a heart that is in love with beauty and has the courage to be deeply attentive to a new experience, even if that experience cuts our heart and abuses our most sensitive aspirations. Like art, there is no prerequisite for in Socratic philosophy for seeking self knowledge.
Vlastos and Graham offer an important insight into the common assessibilty of the quest for self knowledge through the Socratic method.
"Why rank that method among the great achievements of humanity? Because it makes moral inquiry a common human enterprise, open to everyone. Its practice calls for no adherence to a philosophical system, or mastery of a specialized technique, or acquisition of a technical vocabulary. It calls for common sense and common speech. And this is as it should be, for how a human being should live is everyone's business."
This insight is not limited to the Socratic method. All human beings have a will to know themselves. All people do it to some measure. But all the world is filled with theories of life, religions and poltical views that try to tell us to pay more attention to their theory than to our own living quest and personal work in gaining self knowledge. Just as I did my own work on the keyboard to understand a selection of music, Socratic philosophy teaches that we should do our own work in questioning our ideas, committments, perceptions, values, principles and habits so that we may learn of ourselves and become a real presence unto ourselves. It is the art of living that Plato called the examined life.
The experience of art brings something new into the world. No two people have the same experience of any object of art. I am reminded of Melete, who said, "When I experience art, I become the art and the art becomes me." The dance of this becoming is performed to the music of our own hospitality to the other as we intimately embrace the differences that art, and life, bring to us. This dance of becoming is the necessary experience of tact in our experience of art and life. To be touched by and to touch the other in art, to join with the art and the artist in a shared space, to allow ourselves to be deeply affected, are fundamental necessities for embracing the potential for depth in our experience of meaning and beauty in the arts. To embrace the other, to walk in the other's shoes, to see with new eyes, feel a new passion, hear an unexpected sound, and think a different idea is the basic cognitive essence of our human relatedness to the otherness of art and life. This is also true for our relationships with ourselves and one another. How this dance of becoming works in a context of Socratic dialogue, where the only works of art are the human beings involved, will be discussed in Part II.
The knowledge of the arts created by such becoming is not reducible to the interpretive and critical abstractions of the academics. In art and in life our ability to make room for the other within our own experience is the internal common ground that the receiver of art and the those, who lead an examined life, must create. A hospitable reception of art creates a shared space that allows the differences, which the other brings to us, to come to life in the fullness of the attentiveness of our own minds. In this creation of hospitable space we make ourselves able to touch the common ground upon which we must walk in order to experience art and life to their fullest degree. It is in our capacity to create hospitable spaces within our minds for new ideas and experiences that we express our most basic capacity to receive art and live an examined life.
The receivers of art can fail to step onto common ground by spending their energies blindly holding onto the priority of their own ideas and preconceptions over the new data and new experiences that art invites us to experience. This causes us to fail to provide the richness of our full and hospitable attention to art. Such receivers of art share, in their own way, the incompleteness of academics who are too obsessed with the others they find in their abstractions of jargon and theory. The needful expediencies of associating new data and experiences to our most familiar frameworks and habits of focus is both the mimetic miracle of our capacity to survive and our greatest obstacle to deepening our walk towards beauty.
Secondary Talk is The Purpose of the Primary
My Rachmaninoff experience led me to a realization that made it more difficult for me to hold the counter-Platonic republic of the primary apart from the secondary city. The realization is that the purpose of primary is to generate secondary talk. Whether we are striving for our beauties in the abstractions of our theoretical focus or giving our rich attentiveness in the republic of artists to blending a myriad of ineffable influences into our artistic experience, secondary talk is secondary talk. The spirit of the republic walks in primary participation, but sets the heart of its aspirations upon a rich harvest of secondary talk in the bountiful reception and imitation of its created forms. The spirit of the secondary city walks in primary participation in the creation and application of theory and longs to generate bountiful secondary talk. When art comes to visit us, it does not want us to remain silent. Art wants us to join with it in our rigorous attentiveness and blend our own voices into the song. The mimetic chorus of the secondary, whether conducted in the artist's republic or the secondary city of academics, is a necessary springtime of social selectivity, focus, and memetic rebirth.
The theoretical point I arrive at in this meditation on the collapse of the counter-platonic republic and the secondary city is that the relationship between primary participation and secondary talk is usefully expressible as a relationship between repetition and variation. All creative acts, artistic and theoretical, call out for the mimetic kiss of the societies in which they were born. In our secondary repetitions of art and theory we gain the opportunity to create variation and in this the cycle of creativity begins again. The primary calls for the secondary so that we may give birth to new primary creativities. The relationship between repetition, variation, and complexity will be explored in Part III as the pavement of the highway to meaning, and as the core structure in the human experience of the Socratic method.
Living without the boundaries between the republic of artists and the secondary city of academics requires us to learn the art of a specific style of dancing. It is through Melete's dance of becoming, in which the art becomes us and we become the art, that we share our self understandings with one another in fluid responsiveness and rigorous attentiveness. In this dance the identity of art and the receiver of art merge. In this dance the power of art to help us live and die is brought to its full fertility. We step onto the dance floor when we offer up our most rigorous philological attentiveness and also add our own unique voice and steps. The key balance between philological attentiveness to the arts and asserting our own interpretive voice and expression is to make sure that we do not wind up just singing our own song to ourselves.
A theme in the comedy The Big Bang Theory is based on the well developed frameworks of scientific understanding held by the male cast members, which are contrasted with their lack of self-confidence to be their full and diversely attentive selves in the personal aspects of life. A primary structure in the comedy of this show is expressed in their attempts to apply their scientific frameworks to all things in ways that illustrate the criticisms of Real Presences. In the series, Leonard finds he has the opportunity to have a relationship with Penny. The show makes it very obvious that Leonard sees Penny in the light of her being miraculously beautiful. Having a relationship with beauty is a relatively new experience for Leonard. In his relationships, he has not had the same success that he experiences with his attentive devotion to science. So, instead of venturing into opening himself up to something new, Leonard simply repeats the habits of his success in science.
In Season 2, Episode 1 of The Big Bang Theory, Penny asks Leonard a question about yogurt. Leonard misinterprets her question by paying more attention to his favored scientific habits of seeing and interpreting than to offering his full attention to Penny.
Leonard: So you see, what you’re eating is not technically yogurt, because it doesn’t have enough live acidophilus cultures. It’s really just iced milk with carragenin added for thickness.
Penny: Oh, that’s very interesting.
Leonard: It’s also not pink and has no berries.
Penny: Yeah, but it doesn’t really answer my question.
Leonard: What was your question again?
Penny: Do you want some?
Do we hear the questions and see the visions that a particular instance of art invites us to embrace, or are we merely allowing our own favored way of seeing and interpreting to take away the voice of the other? No matter how useful an old mask may truly be, always viewing art through old masks with the ease of habit that comes with our meticulously practiced manners of success can actually lead us to miss the most basic point of any particular work of art. The depth and fertility of our responses to the other fail to be realized when we do not have the self-confidence to step outside of the beauties we have embraced in our past success. In order to discover new beauty, we must face all that seems unbeautiful and unsuccessful within us. The courage to step outside of our prepared comforts gives us the strength and will to take a first tender step into our embrace of new things. When I took one small step outside myself to embrace a new experience with Rachmaninoff, I also embraced the humiliation of realizing how much I suck as an artist. It was in my own hospitality to this humiliation and not in the surer success of abstract analysis, for which I am better prepared, that I experienced something beautiful and wonderful in art. I also learned some things about myself.
Art does not call us to settle into unvarying habits. Art is not the birth song of complacency. The antithesis of art is our embrace of the inevitable complacencies that arise when our successful habits become our peace. The comforting warmth of this complacent embrace is the peaceful dwelling of all our dogmas. We embrace our dogmas as both a vision of our future success and as the restful home where we put on the very blinders that limit our growth. We wear our trusty blinders in the confidence of our past successes. We tolerate the blinders because we are compelled to repeat the success of past experience. In this common human experience of desiring to repeat our successes, there is no secondary city or republic of the primary. The aspiration of art is to convince, persuade or otherwise seduce all who bear witness to art that we exist in a moment worthy of taking our blinders off. Art lives to convince us that there are beauties worthy of taking the risks that come with putting an end to complacent habits. The desire of art is to break us open to new visions and unexpected understandings. This desire is also the beating heart of Socratic philosophy as it affirms any use of method related to the art of living an examined life.
George Steiner phrased a posture of depth and quality in our experience of art as, "civility...towards the inward savour of things". Regarding the important task of bring the making the real presence of art come alive to us he asked, "What means have we to integrate that savour into the fabric of our own identity?"
The answer to this question is that it is a quality of mind that rises out of the practice of living an examined life, in which the quest for self knowledge is active. This quality of mind has the power to integrate the meaningful inward savour of things into our own identity. The practice of the kind of attentiveness required to live a life in which gaining self knowledge is a priority will open and exercise the interpretive mind. The practice of interpreting one's own being in daily life tempers the attending mind with the textures and nuances of perceptiveness needed enhance experience and to open up to art with a rich and hospitable depth of personal presence. In the quest for self knowledge we develop a fertile fluidity of mind that frees the fullness of our attending mind and personal being to be fully present in our attentiveness to art.
Steiner said the informing agency that empowers this integration is tact, how we allow ourselves to touch and be touched. This tact first develops as a human skill in the absence of our fear of coming into contact with our own self knowing. The quest for self knowledge is the first training ground for attaining a greater degree of meaning and beauty in our experience of art. Art will become more beautiful and meaningful when we find our own being beautiful and meaningful enough to commit our energies to learn of ourselves. Being a real presence to ourselves is the first step to real presence in all of life. The mindful blending of the beauties and meanings of our own self knowing with those of the other in art is the communion of real presence.
 This refers to the dialectic nature of contexts in interpretation. Steiner says (p.163) "Our reading modifies, is in turn modified by, the communicative presence of its object.
 Steiner (p. 179)
 Steiner (p. 179) Read this whole page for Steiner's own context of how "comes to call on us" and "fulfill needs we knew not of" flow together.
 Steiner (p. 182) "Entering into us, the painting, the sonata, the poem brings us into reach of our own nativity of consciousness. It does so at a depth inaccessible in any other way."
[9.5] This refers to the book "The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman" by Takuan Soho (1573–1645)
The workstation where I wrote this essay is
in front of another of my grandmother's paintings.
My grandmother in art class in the 1960's