There’s a german word Weltschmerz. My understanding of it is that, you are born and as you grow up you notice the world is asking you to fulfil a role within it, which is essentially to be a working part of the Leviathan in whatever way you choose, however you don’t have the choice not to choose.
With Weltschmerz when you try to be the person the world wants you to be instead of being who you actually are as ahuman being. The process of your endeavour to fulfill this task causes friction in the self. Friction, because you are repressing the your true self in a sort of martyrdom for the greater interest of the workings of society at large.
The shamanistic healing ceremonies you spoke of are a good example. One way of looking at it is that the shaman is healingthe tribe of the malady: weltschmerz, he is stripping them of their tribal or in our case societal identity and thus freeing their true selves in as much as is possible. The ancient greek word ‘ekstasis’ from which we get the word ecstasy means to be or stand outside oneself, a removal. So essentially the feeling of ecstasy is a feeling of being outside of oneself. How do you get outside of yourself? Well there is only one way and that is to die. My point being both the shaman and those at theceremony seek to extract themselves from themselves. For me in this case the shamanistic experience is not death literally, but instead death of the self. The death of the unwanted repressing identities which are forced on us by society or the world, as posited in Weltschmerz. It was Freud who said at the end of his life, and I’m paraphrasing, he said that man will always be repressed by the conventions society and so will never be free and will never resolve his unconscious desired so will always be in a state of anxiety.
For me music and art in general is a transformative act, for like the shaman healing ceremonies it frees you from Weltschmerz. It is a release of the hidden genuine self into a safe place which will not try to it contort it into something that fits in with the conventions of the world but instead commends it and celebrates its unique existence. Art is a safe place in which to be human, in a world where, what is is to be human in an invented definition persecuted upon us and this definition is rooted in a wish to control and control is one of the most basic reasons for the existence of The society.
And so the artistic act for me is ekstasis, extracting one’s self from one’s self. This transformation for me is in the creative act and also in performance.
One of my guitarists once said, ‘Kevin, when you perform, ten demons leave your body’. At first I thought this a funny statement and still do in fact. But Stephen my guitarist was kind of describing the shamanistic cathartic elements of myperformance. There’s an old blues term called ‘real gone’. It’s hard to define but it means when you are really inside the song that you are performing, it’s when you lose yourself in the act of performing and almost forget yourself if you follow me. Real gone for me is another term for the transformative experience of art. Some painters say that when they are painting they lose all sense of time and are just completely lost in the experience of creating art. There is a type of transcendence involved in art. People sometimes talk of transcendence as a process where one loses the empirical self i.e. the body and the mind and instead becomes some sort of spirit or higher existence. But if you think of a work of art as an object with no empirical attributes no autonomous mind, no body just like the aforementioned idea of transcendence. The work of art is among other things the manifested emotions, desires, will, grace and cognitions of the artist, so in a creative way you can almost understand the work of art itself as an example of a transcended being. It's like a contextual example of ekstasis, of death in life. I’m now reminded of a quote by Charles Bukowski which goes ‘you can’t beat death but you can beat death in life’ from his poem The Laughing Heart.
When I perform I become bewitched by the music and the narrative of the lyrics, it’s almost like a hypnotist has hypnotised me and I completely believe I’m a chicken, I believe in the essential nature of the song. It is true and real for me but I think it is very important to the enterprise that I am seen and my performance is perceived by the other. Because essentially on one level all art is an expression and when one express oneself the expression can only be truly completed or resolved when it had been witnessed by the other. That’s one of the reasons why therapy is so good for people and there are people who see art as self therapy. Sometimes though the witnessing other can be the self. Think of Narcissus staring into the water. Meaning when the creator/artist witnesses his or her own finished work of art then it can be resolved by the artist witnessing his or her self within the work. This is well understood by those who write in diaries to sooth their mental state, I’m one of them. When they read back what they have written they witness their own expression, thus quantifying a type of resolution, think of the Augustine’s ‘Confessions’. There is a theorist who posits that every human endeavour from theoretical physics to art to philosophy to medical science to gardening, is all rooted in a urge to ‘express’ the self to the other, with the wish to attract a mate, cure loneliness thus propagating the race, going on towards going on, as is the object of our genes.
When I perform there’s an incantatory element, an attempt to evoke an almost ethereal sense or presence inside the music. Captain Beefheart once said, ‘I don’t write songs, I cast spells’ there those who see music as a type of magic, one note in asong can move a person profoundly to sadness or joy or even have a maddening effect, this is a type of magic to me. I think of the song by Tom Waits ‘Make It Rain’, I get a feeling of a tribesman doing the sacred magic rain dance to make the rain come for his crops. With Waits his rain dance or song is a plea evoking the spirit of the tribesman's magical power to resolve his broken heart as he sings ‘Hell can’t burn me more than this’.
Performing is an exalted experience, Kerouac spoke of his ‘exalted exhaustion’ when explaining the term ‘Beat’. For me on one level it kind of means you are tired of having so much energy or weary of your in built genetic sometimes unwelcome will to exist.
- Kevin Nolan Dec 2014
Just one way of
looking at it is this.