Alamut, Bosch, Gaddis: Introduction to Epochal Art | Ribbonfarm
Nothing is true, everything is permitted
First version published @ Ribbonfarm on April 28, 2020.
On the noon of the seventeenth day of Ramadan, 1164, Hassan II, hereditary Imam of the Alamut State founded by the Order of Assassins under Hassan-i-Sabbah, immanentised the Eschaton.
In a bravura display of apophatism, he declared quiyāma ―the Islamic Resurrection― with the abrogation of Sharia law; inviting the Nezāri potentates to gather ―with their backs to Mecca― and partake with him in a feast of pork and wine.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been haram, but Paradise is out of time and without sin or law. When nothing is true and everything is permitted, Apocalypse Now coincides with Paradise Regained. The Imam’s worldbreaking banquet prefigures other tropes we may be more familiar with: Blake’s fearful symmetries, Nietzsche’s balls-to-the-wall transvaluation, Burroughs’ “disruption of reality” as “literal realization of art.”
The subject of this blogchain will be this paradisiacal liminality when captured in the amber of art.
A commonality of cultures is they all have dragons: objets de vertu that congeal at moments and in ways that can insinuate complete epochal gestures. From Imam Hassan’s milleranian post-Islamic happening to Millenial work that is emerging as we speak, the epochal perspective/scale, brought to art, can furbish insights even parsimonious criticism cannot. Beyond a work’s aesthetic and surface historical merits, an epochal approach to art analysis will probe at its memetic and mimetic outer reaches ―what it means because it rhymes. Its concern is resonance.
Take, for instance, the central panel of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights ―its garden proper, the apple of the tryptich’s eye. In a way that echoes Hassan’s suspension of belief, it may be the greatest of the stranger apophatic moments in all Western painting, in that it comes at God from the front, from the back, and sideways. The Garden is to its picaresque epochal sentiment what Wittgenstein’s qualification of Weininger’s work with an ~ did for the latter: [set it up it as] a mirroring device. A mirror doesn’t merely reflect, it multiplies infinitely and infinitesimally at once. The nictitating membrane of the world is drawn; its giveaway and gate a mise en abyme, meta.
In this sense, the @boschbot account on Twitter may be doing more to further our appreciation of Bosch’s Garden than most recent scholarship on it has, by exposing and exploiting its extraordinary detail through a telescopic lens, in an approach that allows the observer to engage the work on a precritical, almost prefrontal level, while opening up new and previously unseen dimensions of an artwork that had become a sort of floating signifier through memetic overexposure.
As much as this enriches art by association, familiarity breeds indifference, the most unimaginative form of contempt. Counter to this level of assimilation, @boschbot plumbs the Garden’s enigmas and restores its mystery —that is to say, an element of its authority—in a feat of auratic restoration.
It is also a case of instinct ―knowing how to see― trumping expertise ―knowing what one’s seeing—: a kind of imposition of innate, originary lares over connate, conventional mores.
In 1955, William Gaddis published The Recognitions, which is, among other things, the greatest novel ever written on the art and act of painting.
Structured as a triptych, it investigates the spectrum between the original and the mimetic, the djinn of imitation, the real and the fake and the real in the fake, ad nauseaum. It is, as you may guess, another of our vertiginous epochal artifacts: the one to lend its name and spirit to our inquiry on artworks that have passed the Turing test of time across the ages.