Monday, April 20, 2009

ARTISTS AT WAR: GILBERT BUNDY

Gilbert Bundy (1911-1955) painted with a light and elegant brush.



Look at the graceful way he handles the bouquet of flowers on the table:



... or the foliage and chandelier in the background:



Bundy gained fame as a cartoonist in the pages of Esquire magazine in the 1930s. He painted delightful watercolors of the leisure class at play, specializing in millionaire sportsmen and glamorous show girls.









High society photos from this period show the handsome young illustrator out on the town, dressed in his tuxedo and escorting some beautiful young chanteuse to gala parties. Here we see Bundy in his studio with yet another gorgeous model:



Bundy fell in love with the right girl, married her and had a baby daughter. Life was sweet.

But when World War II came along, Bundy decided for some reason to leave it all behind and volunteer to work as an artist in the South Pacific for Hearst newspapers.





In 1944, Bundy was accompanying the Marine invasion of Tarawa when a Japanese shell exploded in his small landing craft. Bundy survived but was trapped beneath the bodies of four Marines. The wreckage of the craft lodged on a coral reef within range of enemy gunners. For most of the day, Bundy remained pinned beneath the corpses, drenched with blood, as enemy bullets and shells strafed the remnants of the craft. When it finally turned dark, Bundy freed himself and swam away from the wreck, taking his chances spending a night alone in shark infested waters rather than endure another day under fire. The Hearst newspaper reported, "He was believed dead for three days. His reappearance startled his Marine mates."



Bundy returned to the U.S. but never recaptured the joy in his pre-war art. On the anniversary of his ordeal Bundy committed suicide, thereby rejoining his fallen comrades.

Sometimes I think about how a sensitive, observant artist such as Bundy perceived such horrors. Of course, I also wonder what lured him to leave his loving wife and daughter in order to paint war to begin with.

Arthur Koestler wrote persuasively about why artists and writers chose to immolate themselves in the flames of World War II. They were not fearless patriots or fanatical believers. To the contrary, many believed that "to love one's country is vulgar, to love God is archaic and to love mankind is sentimental." Yet, some other force drew the artists toward their doom: "there is no escape, and he feels it; so he goes on trying at least to name the nameless force that destroys him."

In trying to "name that nameless force," Koestler wrote of his friend, the young writer Richard Hillary who became a fighter pilot and was shot down in the Battle of Britain. Hillary was burned beyond recognition. After months of painful reconstructive surgery, his face was horribly disfigured and his hands resembled bird claws. Still, some of the most beautiful young women in London pursued him. Rather than embrace whatever semblance of beauty that remained in life, Hillary pressured the air force into letting him fly again and the next mission ended him. Koestler wrote that Hillary
flies like a moth into the flame; and having burned his wings crawls back into it again.... Why then, in God's name, did he go back?.... [H]e was the only one left , and he had to go on paying the tribute [to his fallen comrades]. For the survivor is always a debtor. He thought he came back [to civilization] for the fellowship with the living , while he already belonged to the fraternity of the dead.
Hillary's motives, like Bundy's, were more psychologically complex than mere patriotism. He wrote that people who feel guilt for "imaginary debts" account for many of civilization's great accomplishments:
You could not expect healthy motives to lead to the morbid act of self-sacrifice. The prosperity of the race was based on those who paid imaginary debts. Tear out the roots of their guilt and nothing will remain but the drifting sand of the desert.
Art and war together in the same petrie dish can result in situations that are not always easy to understand, but which are worth investigating. I will offer a collection of such stories in the months ahead.

46 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

...another great entry,

now, i am college educated, but i don't get the quote.
what race? the human race? his race? the race of life?
will someone summarize that quote for me?
thanks,
D.H.

4/22/2009 7:42 AM  
Blogger Beth Ahrens-Kley said...

A beautiful story (you have told), and his watercoloring is masterful, his experiences in war horrific, his ending tragic.
Possibly he simply wanted to 'get away'? Secrets of a marriage are often the best kept secrets...perhaps the seeds of his psychic destruction were already there and bloomed while he lay beneath the dead comrades.

4/22/2009 1:50 PM  
Blogger al mcluckie said...

David - stumbled onto your blog , as well as Leif's - can't recall which was first . I really appreciate the critical thought and humanism . I would like to send you a few images which you may or may not be familiar with .

If you would care to check out my website - almcluckie.com , you will find my contact info . Thanks again for what you are doing , i look forward to joining the discussions soon .

Best regards , Al Mcluckie

4/22/2009 2:37 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

D.H. you are absolutely right. That quote was too sparse because I was trying to stay brief when dealing with a subject that was not conducive to brevity. I have gone back and added more context. Now I fear this post prattles on too long but at least it may be a little more understandable.

I think the point of the quote is that the human race is propped up and moved forward by acts that appear on the surface to be acts of bravery and heroism. That's certainly the way they are explained to school children. But in reality the motives are far more complex. These people are motivated by a sense of guilt at surviving, a deep longing for something worth dying for, a feeling of debt, etc, and without such motivations the human race might not find as many defenders against tyranny willing to sacrifice themselves.

4/22/2009 4:27 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Beth, I agree. Every couple makes their own deal and you can never tell from outside a marriage what goes on inside. But from the outside, it looks like Bundy walked away from a pretty idyllic situation.

Al, I enjoyed looking at the art on your website. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to your participation in these discussions.

4/22/2009 4:30 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

David, I nominate you for Cultural Czar of The United States. You are soooo good. Honestly, I would buy any book you wrote about anything. I realize this sounds like sucking up, but really its just obsequiousness. :)

Anyhow... this is a very interesting topic. Maybe one that has become impossible for non-combatants like myself (and most artists nowadays, and maybe you) to fathom given the consciously and virulently anti-nationalist stance of the "sophisticated" folk that raise and surround us in the coastal cities of this nation, who also, in general, tell us what is news, write the most television shows, and create the bulk of the movies that get nominated for oscars. The message beaming out is generally that soldiers are victims not heroes (How long a civilization can last with that message in constant rotation, one can only guess.) and therefore how can we know what it was like for a young man in 1941 in a culture and a nation that mobilized in its entirety to encourage, support and honor his service?

Dunno.

But it seems to me that WWII was an honorable and heroic struggle to a sufficient amount of the culture and its watchdogs that a man, when men were men, would be insane to not join in. It was not only where the action was, but where all manhood was, where all righteousness was, where the world was, in fact.

Once in situ, words, those sly palliatives on reality, give way to existential realities so mind-blowing that civilization's pleasant paradigms fall away like snakeskin or last year's fashions. And what is left is the root of man; war, sex, and food and the cunning methods of winning them. And once that level of life intensity is tasted, it is a long way back.

I have one war torn friend who wishes everyday he were back in the intensity of Nam. I met a man who had been in the Pacific in World War Two, who, when asked whether he remembered his time there, replied, "I've spent every day of my life trying to forget."

I think it's the intensity. It boils away all meaning that isn't crucial to immediate survival. Civilization is a hollow, foolishly decorated eggshell by comparison.

Ah, meaning... Hope is the thing with feathers.

4/22/2009 11:27 PM  
Blogger Kagan M. said...

GREAT post! Wow.

4/23/2009 12:33 AM  
Blogger Beth Ahrens-Kley said...

Kev's post is the essence of why war happens in the first place, male egoism, and greed for excitement ('intensity'), land, power or whatever.
Why should any man, who is raising a child, leave to go to a situation where he might be killed? That is what is insane, not honorable or heroic.

4/23/2009 1:01 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Why? The Nazis.

There is no use protecting your home and family when the home we call the world is a fascist nightmare. Think locally, act globally.

4/23/2009 1:30 PM  
Blogger OMWO said...

>Kev's post is the essence of why >war happens in the first place, >male egoism, and greed for >excitement ('intensity'), land, >power or whatever.

Or perhaps war happens because of "us versus them" simplifications like "MALE egoism causes all wars"! Give me a break. Think of women in power and consider how peaceful their kingdoms were. Take Margareth Tatcher for a recent example. Or just consider how well women get along at the office with one another. For each angel, how many greedy, scheaming, vengeful vipers! What they lack in courage for open conflict, they make up for in the art of back stabbing!

4/23/2009 2:18 PM  
Anonymous John C. said...

"Kev's post is the essence of why war happens in the first place, male egoism, and greed for excitement ('intensity'), land, power or whatever. Why should any man, who is raising a child, leave to go to a situation where he might be killed? That is what is insane, not honorable or heroic.”

He was probably hen-pecked by a wife who had no idea what it feels to be alive, join the opera of life, or associate with a cause greater than herself. He probably had faith his son would understand. Of course, heroes come in all shapes, and Beth's man would be a hero as well only dying a much slower death, sitting in his cubicle, sighing, and telling her “yes dear” when other men are out protecting her way of life.

4/23/2009 4:27 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev, Beth, OMWO et.al, I think it is important to note here that Bundy went to war not as a soldier but as an artist. He wasn't picking up a gun to protect his family or his country. Of course, other artists (such as Hillary) did fight to the death, but even Hillary said he was doing so with no illusions about what he was fighting for. He disagreed with many things about the English people and their government, and said he was sacrificing himself not "because of" England but "in spite of" England.

I recognize that there is a time when a person-- male or female-- must fight. The timing and the principles surrounding that moment have preoccupied western literature since the Iliad. But I think Bundy's motivation-- both in deciding to go, and later in deciding to commit suicide-- is a slightly different puzzle.

4/23/2009 6:33 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Oops. I caught an invisible bus. :)

Anyway...

One thing about art is that it requires a good deal of nerve and resolve. And above all, realistic narrative art, with sensible scenarios, form, lighting, research, and deft handling of technique, and all the rest of it, requires a kind of masterful self-possession... a psychological wholeness. Authorial nerve. An integrated personality and functional ambition.

If that wholeness is in question, if the nerves are shimmering like a gong, if the self has been left aside while the imagination drifts into abstraction... in short, if there is a disintegration of the various aspects usually called upon to act on an artwork, then the artwork will reflect that disintegration and fail. And so will the artist.

The same societal forces that could have swept a young man to participate as a soldier, could have brought an artist to take his part in the conflict as an observer, with the same psychological results in the aftermath. The same despair could overcome either when looking into the abyss from the inside.

4/23/2009 9:11 PM  
Blogger Stephen Worth said...

Hello David

Today I posted an article on the Archive site about futurism. I mention it because I thought you might get a kick out of the fact that when I was writing it, I had your posting style in mind! Your blog is an inspiration.

Enjoy
Steve

4/23/2009 10:36 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

This really is a generational thing that you won't understand...something like "it's a black thing and you wouldn't understand." My father,myself and my son all volunteered for military service during war time, not because of egotism or blood lust (written about with as much understanding as most men could write about menstruation).

As much as we love to delude ourselves into thinking that we are all rational creatures, the rationale often comes well after the act. The reason we volunteered is, as near as I can figure, the same reason we all had orange juice for breakfast...it's something we did. No reason past that. All of us also joined Boy Scouts, so try to figure that out.

Bundy's feelings of wonder and guilt are common for people who survive situations others do not. It's trying to find a reason for what is sheer chance. We see similar responses (reactions, really) with people who have won a lottery...they get rid of the money as quickly as possible in order to return to what was a comfortable and understandable status. In the case of Bundy and others like him, there was no returning.

His reaction had nothing to do with the 'extraordinary sensitivities' of an artist. It's just a human thing. To speculate on the state of his marriage is a breach of taste...and probably a breach of character.

4/23/2009 10:42 PM  
Blogger Beth Ahrens-Kley said...

OK, I admit, it was a wild, insulting oversimplification;re-reasons for going to war as pertaining to males (only). Note that all of you who have lambasted me mercilessly, are men, and, most likely, have not raised a child (alone) 24/7 like I have for 17 years. A struggle and challenge as deep and profound, yet as necessary and ultimately rewarding, I would think... as any conflict which would call forth our youth to fight.
I believe David, in his soothing and wise words, has it right "I recognize that there is a time when a person-- male or female-- must fight. The timing and the principles surrounding that moment have preoccupied western literature ...."
One must not go forth into war blindly/blandly, without serious thought, but must weigh all circumstances/consequences/responsibilities, before such a momentous decision.
So what were the societal forces that swept this young artist into the realm of war? Or, should/can we ask, was it the right thing for him to do? I suggest, it was not.

4/24/2009 11:36 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Steve, that's a great post on futurism. I really enjoyed it. I'm not sure why it is similar to my "posting style"-- it looks a lot classier than the stuff I come up with!

Rob, it may indeed be a generational thing. I don't have any easy answers, which is what makes this a prime area for collecting a varierty of perspectives.

I wouldn't say that artists are necessarily more sensitive than ordinary mortals, but on the other hand most of the born warriors I've known came equipped with a hard shell (not ideal for observing the beauty of a floral arrangement). The true warrior poets are few and far between. Koestler was a brilliant scientist and intellectual, as well as a sensitive writer, but when confronted with the Nazis in the 1930s, he knew when it was time to squeeze a trigger. Another warrior poet, Siegfried Sassoon, came up with one of my favorite lines: "In me the tiger sniffs the rose."

These people, in the words of Shakespeare, are "the masters of their faces."

4/24/2009 1:42 PM  
Blogger Rob Howard said...

David, for my father's generation (and Bundy's generation) it was very simple. I recall spending a summer with my grandmother in New York. There were enormous air raid sirens, it seemed on every block. All of the windows had those little hanging flags with a red border, a white field and a blue star for every family member in military service (a gold star if one was killed in action). Seeing all of those stars in the windows was a great societal pressure. Another pressure was, for the first year or so, we were losing the war...big time. I recall trips to the shore to see the oil slicks and wreckage of merchant ships that were sunk within just a few miles of our shores.

It was hardly a nice comfortable choice like which diet will I go one today. There was no question about diets...not with ration books and ration stamps...and victory gardens, practically no gas and cars were repaired again and again until they looked like the cannibalized cars in present day Havana. The entire civilian population was mobilized behind the soldiers. They were treated with respect. There were the long waits between letters...in one, we finally learned the reason for a long delay was my father's ship had been torpedoed in the North Atlantic. He made it home and was immediately shipped out again for more of the same. There was an air of desperation simply because it was desperate. There were no lofty philosophical questions aside from, the bear has us up a tree. Should we offer him candy and ask to be friends?

My own situation was a bit less pressing. There was no wreckage washing ashore. Yes there was a draft, but frankly being drafted would not have reflected well on my character, so I volunteered. In fact, I was what's called a triple volunteer and frankly did things to prove to myself that I could look the tiger in the eye. Lots of kids do the same thing with bungee jumping and other daredevil stunts...hey, it's a guy thing.

My son volunteered for more and more challenging training and came away from his time on the anvil will a real knowledge of who he is and what he is capable of doing (and that does not mean violent stuff).

Out of our shared experiences, the three generations exhibit similar traits in that we don't sweat stuff that makes many people flip out...sheesh, just look at how homicidal some of that Type-A guys get when stuck in traffic, or if they're late for a meeting or, most terrifying of all, face being yelled at by the boss...oooooh, scary!

Perhaps it's in the blood or perhaps it's in the experience, but we never raise our blood pressure over the small stuff. However, that doesn't mean that we won't run like hell if chased by the bear.

Thinking about war in the abstract is like thinking about lovemaking in the abstract or reading an exotic menu and convincing yourself that you know what it tastes like. Contrary to the popular movies which show vets returning home as lumps of psychic (and psycho) jelly, most human beings have the capacity to learn and grow from scary experiences, and as they say about courage...it's what you get after you do the scary thing. If you don't go to see the elephant, you'll always wonder how you'll handle it when he's sitting on your chest and every person with those wonderfully wrought rationales, secret, in their heart of hearts wonders how they will react or respond when the scary thing happens.

I am quite sure that Bundy was motivated by the national fervor, the national fear (and need) and wondering if he could handle it.

There are things more real than your boss yelling at you or losing your job, you house, your car and your money.

4/24/2009 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am quite sure that Bundy was motivated by the national fervor, the national fear (and need) and wondering if he could handle it."

Which falls neatly into the category of egotism. There's nothing wrong with that in and of itself. For all the nonsense that egotism produces, every once in a while it leads to an advancement. Art is really nothing more than ego on canvas (or whatever medium the artist works in). Ego is the reason people get obsessed with things that seem silly or trivial to others. The other people also have their own egotistical agendas, they are just based on different values.

There's no need to speculate on the state of Bundy's marriage. Only dull-minded and spiritually dead people can be completely satisfied with an "idyllic" life or "soft beauty" for very long.

Everything a person does is selfishly motivated, there's no escaping that. To love country, God, or mankind may be vulgar, archaic, and sentimental but at the root of all these passions is the love of self; searching for validation or just plain excitement. The "nameless force" is simply the ego.

4/25/2009 12:50 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Rob, what you say sounds quite plausible. It was before my time, but one certainly gets the tone you describe from literature of the period. But if Bundy was reacting to the national fear and fervor, why go to war as an artist for King Features? Why not enlist and really fight the bear? Or, to bring it closer to home, you say "being drafted would not have reflected well on my character." How would not joining up at all, but going overseas as an artist have reflected on your character? I am guessing Bundy was motivated mostly by your point about "whether he could handle" life at its most extreme.

Anonymous, you are a little more confident than I am that you understand what motivates people. I would urge you to read Arthur Koestler's wartime novel, Arrival and Departure, based on real people he knew during the war. It's the story of a freedom fighter who is captured and tortured horribly by the Nazis. He escapes to the west where he is patched up and treated and undergoes psychoanalysis. His therapist explains to him everything that you have said: that he had been acting out of egotism, that everything a person does is selfishly motivated. The book is a typically insightful dialogue about human motivation. Finally, the freedom fighter is cured, he understands everything about his delusions and halucinations of altruism, patriotism, etc. Yet the book ends with him parachuting back behind enemy lines.

4/25/2009 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He was "cured"? Does that mean he had no ego left? I doubt it. That's not the purpose of psychoanalysis.

4/26/2009 10:56 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, I suggest that you read the book. I promise that it won't poison you. Koestler knew Freud personally and interviewed him about his theories. He also knew freedom fighters personally and was himself imprisoned by the fascists and sentenced to death. He had many long weeks on death row, with firing squads taking place outside his window, to think about what motivates people to do the things they do. You could do a lot worse for a guide in this area.

4/26/2009 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whether or not I read the book has no bearing on the fact that the purpose of psychoanalysis is not the dismantling of ego.

By the way, I'm not using the term in its Freudian sense. I'm using it philosophically, more in line with how it's used in Buddhism. Freud had some good things to say but I'd take Gautama, Nagarjuna, Huang Po, and a few other Buddhist or Zen sages over him hands down any day of the week. And if you don't like the eastern stuff there's always Kierkegaard or Nietzsche. They all had much more insight into the nature of ego than Freud.

4/26/2009 12:00 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Anonymous, I don't recall ever suggesting that "the purpose of psychoanalysis is the dismantling of ego." I only said that the character in a book was cured by his therapist of the "delusion" that he was motivated by patriotism and virtue. He was made to confront the "fact" that he was really being controlled by his own subjective ego. Yet, in the end he went back to fight anyway.

But since you say you are not using psychoanalysis in its technical sense, but only philosophically, let's go there instead.

It seems to me that the thinkers you have identified, with the exception of Nietzsche, are all proprietors of a metaphysical opium den. Compared to Freud, they represent (in my view) intellectual and moral abdication of the glorious struggle to integrate ego into the world. You might wish to resolve the agony of Gilbert Bundy by referring him to the founding zen poem that "the conflict between right and wrong is the sickness of the mind." In that respect, Zen is quite compatible with Nazism, Communism, anarchy or fascism. But I require more from my philosophy.

In fact, Haas would say that your attraction to "Gautama, Nagarjuna, Huang Po, and a few other Buddhist or Zen sages," suggests you are more interested in philousia than philosophy. The eastern tradition has historically been less interested in objective factual knowledge (sophia) and more interested in essential Being (ousia). I suppose that's one way of sidestepping the philosophical dilemmas of ego (reality vs. illusion, self vs. other, theory vs. practice). But for me, bathing in eastern mystical escape is not an adequate solution.

Given your choice of eastern thinkers, it's not surprising that you would include Kierkegaard-- the father of the existential void from the west-- on your list of heroes. I'm not saying that these thinkers don't have a way with words, I just think that ultimately their path has proven to be one great big dead end.

Freud got a lot of things wrong, but he plowed fertile soil where many future generations could correct him and do good work and make a difference in the quality of people's lives. Give me "Civilization and Its Discontents" or "Totem and Taboo" over "Sickness Unto Death" any day!

HOWEVER, as long term readers here know, I do adore Nietzsche so we are in agreement there.

4/26/2009 8:22 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Rob, great post!

David, I would say that the success of western philosophy is that it marries the ideal and the real, rather than just positing the ideal as the real and leaving reality to the goons, who eventually show up at the monastary door to ruin all the heedless bliss. The appreciation of the superimposition of the real and the ideal, substance and essence, is what leads to true knowledge of the world, and thus true progress... beneficial technology and self understanding.

The ism prism is such a waste of time. Anonymous says its all about ego... oh, I thought it was all about sex. Wait, isn't it all about class? Or progress? Or master-slave relationships? Or enlightenment? Or the releasing of our mass and the return to stardust? Or the unconscious? Or the will to power?

Isms are ideal categories, found lurking in everything. Selecting one out for apotheosis is silly. Just a mental choo choo to watch go round and round the track, hypnotizing us.

The idea that art is all about ego is nonsense, just like saying art is all about sex, money, or all about power, or all about class, politics, the "act of making" and all the rest of it. Isms are a refuge from complexity.

In fact, to the contrary, I would say it is those pseuds with their isms which purport to "explain everything" that have the real ego problems. The need to insist on one's pure rationalizations as having some unassailable value, is the cause of much trouble in the world, if not most. It would be so much better if Ismists dropped their egotism and recognized their fixations as the mantras of zealotry they are.

Howard Pyle taught his students "to render service to the majesty of simple things." That is, to elevate the limpid truth to the epic, demonstrating by analogy the innate heroism of the ordinary moment, and thereby lifting the spirits of their fellow men. I would posit that the lifting of the spirit is a very useful service indeed. And, maybe I'm nuts, but I see generosity and spiritual uplift as the antidote to ego, rather than the cause or effect of it.

kev

4/27/2009 10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kev:

Are you better than "those pseuds with their isms"? Have you dropped your egotism? You are implying that you know something they don't. Do you have "unassailable" knowledge or values which they lack?

You mentioned sex, money, power, progress, class, and politics. Art can be and has been about all these things. But they all have something in common since they stem from the same source; ego. Do you deny that? If you do, how is art a special or different category? How does art have nothing to do with ego?

Also, what is "spiritual uplift"? How do you define spirituality? Most people equate it with happiness but happiness is just an emotion. There can be no happiness without an ego.

4/28/2009 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David:

If he was still being controlled by his subjective ego then it's no mystery why he went back to fight. Confronting something doesn't mean that you are cured of it. You associated those words with each other thus implying (to me) that the therapy somehow stopped the influence ego had on his actions. Even if he got rid of his patriotic delusions of virtue, he would still have other reasons to act the way he did, and most likely they were still egotistical.

Real zen has nothing to do with Nazism, anarchy, Communism, or fascism. Zen is a tool which is used by the individual to rid himself of the spiritually destructive effects of dualistic thinking, not necessarily dualistic thinking itself. It weeds out the false from the true and in that sense, cures the individual of the "the conflict between right and wrong" which is "the sickness of the mind." The conflict is eradicated because there is no longer any confusion between those things which are absolutely true and those which are absolutely false. Zen is real philosophy, unlike the movements you mentioned because it takes absolutely everything into consideration. It is metaphysical, not merely political. It makes no assumptions.

We cannot escape dualistic thinking. Our brains are hard-wired for it. Zen is used to uncover the fact that dualistic categories are not real in and of themselves and that they are properly used only in a practical sense, to accomplish goals in the real world. Of course, the goals of a person with ego and the goals of one with very little or no ego are worlds apart.

There is no such thing as "objective factual knowledge". All things that exist must be seen by an observer. The closest we can come to objectivity is that there is no escaping this "fact".

People with ego see "great big dead ends" where the relatively ego-less only see infinite possibility. But I wouldn't want anyone to take my word for it, everyone has to see it for themselves. Since it can only happen on an individual basis, it can never be turned into a religion, a political movement or a tradition and still be authentic Zen.

4/28/2009 6:51 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

"Art can be and has been about all these things. But they all have something in common since they stem from the same source; ego. Do you deny that?"

Do you deny that you are an inquisitor?

Do you deny your anonymity?

Little joke. Listen, we all have "egos", which is a nice little brand-name for a human characteristic that some preening intellectual sold to get some people on his couch in order to charge them. We all have a lot of different motivations that set us in motion. And we all have a lot of conflicts. Why do you need to simplify everything down to one brand name word for one human characteristic? Words/Brands are the worst kind of simplification, because, like all text, a word makes implicit claims to completeness. T'aint so. Words, of all communication mediums, have the least in common with life, and thus are the most apt to fall into word gaming, pace Wittgenstein. To my understanding, the gamed word, the hallmark of politics and advertising, is the starting point for ideology and ego.

It seems to me that concluding that everything comes down to ego is one of those self-fulfilling philosophies that turns people into hedonistic calculators and nothing more. Reductionism of that sort offers nothing but satisfaction to the reductor.

kev

4/28/2009 7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kev:

I think there may be some truth to what you said about that "preening intellectual". Which is why I don't have much use for his conception of the ego.

In Buddhism, the ego is the mental construct of a self as self-sustaining and existing apart from the rest of reality. Using pure logic, it can be seen that this sense of identity is irrational thus having no real basis in reality.

Believing in this notion of self is what makes it possible to experience gain and loss, the source of desire, conflict and consequently, all the emotions. Since we are all born with an intuitive sensation of ego, it is what sets all our different motivations in motion.

If you read the description of Zen in my previous reply, you might see that I don't grant words, or any other kind of categorization the "implicit claim to completeness" that you think I do. Words are just tools that can help us accomplish certain things if used correctly. Once they are used for their purpose, we have no reason to cling to them anymore.

4/30/2009 3:20 PM  
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4/30/2009 6:33 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Anonymous, I share your belief in the deep connectedness of it all. And while I agree that the zen sense of ego can be seen as the bearer of the sense of division which causes heartache, it does not account for the heartache caused by not dividing, that is, not following the needs of the ego... i.e. food, shelter, protection for yourself, your loved ones, your community, your world, looking out for your future as well as others, exploration, discovery, medicine, invention, creativity.... Imagine the misery without such divisive acts of ego? Why spend life attempting to become, essentially, a vegetable. Why not just finish the unification of the consciousness with the universe by putting an end to the division of existence once and for all?

I see zen as having a worthwhile point to make, but it is lacking the counterpoint of saying essentially, life is real and needs to be pursued or else more misery ensues. That is, the division is as real as the unification. It seems to me the only thing negative is suffering, which lies between living the division and unity.

5/01/2009 7:19 PM  
Blogger einbildungskraft said...

Anonymous,
shed your concerns about self & ego usw, and reveal your identity! at least to those of us here in this invisible bus...

5/02/2009 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kev:

I don't understand your point about not following the needs of the ego. Obviously, denying yourself what you desire is going to cause emotional pain because the ego-mind experiences it as a loss or a lack. Think of the ego as a small child that doesn't get what it desperately wants, it's going to make a lot of noise.

If not following your deepest desires causes heartache then your mind is still functioning egotistically. The purpose of Zen is not to become perfect at suppressing your emotions or denying yourself what you strongly desire. The real goal is to condition the mind so that strong desires no longer arise. The further you go on the path, the weaker your desires become. You can still go about the world doing things, you just no longer do them out of egotistical motivation.

The goal is not to become a vegetable, that would be ridiculous. It's to become more fully human, that is, as conscious as possible.

"the division is as real as the unification."

I agree with that but not in the way I think you meant it. The division and the unification are just appearances, not real in and of themselves. If all things are really "one" then there can be no separation between them and therefore no real connection between them either. There are no ultimately real things, just arbitrary categorizations. Division and unification are also just empty dualistic concepts. Their reality is limited to their nature as arbitrary and empty categories, just like all finite things.

5/02/2009 2:49 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Anon... I think we are on the same page about simultanaeity. I think we differ in our understanding of what it means to be human and what the exact nature of consciousness is. To be fully conscious is not, it seems to me, to be like an animal in the woods who must use his inside out nose to pick up the slightest scent of prey or predator. Who feels every ion in the air but does not recognize himself in the pond he drinks from. That's what it means to be an animal that is aware. Is that human awareness? Human beings have right side in noses. Human being can abstract life and codify those abstractions and pass them on in order to share information. Show me a cat with that in his hat!

So, if you are going to categorize us as human, as separate from the not-human, then you need to select criteria by which to establish human-hood that is exclusively human. And then you will be forced to admit that what it means to be human is to be a scientist and an imaginative romantic, a cynic and a louse, and to dream of a better world while decorating our courtships with flowers, neckties, and bon bons.

And I don't think of the ego as a small child, because I don't separate out the ego from all the other complex motivations we have. I just don't see it is a categorizable thing. It is the act of categorization, which is a political act, which causes divisions to seem manifest. Which then creates space for critique. Seek division and ye shall find.

5/02/2009 11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The criteria for humanity that I use is simply the moral, or that which is purely logical. Only humans have the ability to develop a sense of ethics that goes beyond the animalistic ego. This has nothing to do with science, romance or any of the other things you mentioned, although I have no problem with science per se, it's just not the highest ambition a person can have.

"I don't separate out the ego from all the other complex motivations we have."

Name any complex motivation and I'll show you how it stems from ego.

5/03/2009 4:10 AM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Anon, you seem fixated on this idea of playing the "I bet I can track this back to ego" game. I can play that game too. Its a purely diagrammatic pursuit, which is exactly the kind of clockwork thinking that I am resisting.

On your other point, it is a wholly antiseptic paradigm which refuses to acknowledge that joy and passion is as human as abstract symbolization. Which is to say, you think our rational abilities are separate from our passions. Again, that's diagrammatic thinking, which, if you've ever seen a map of the neuronal structure of the brain, cannot possibly map the true nature of the human.

The marrying of passionate interest with rational thought is the stuff of creativity. Creativity harnesses, rearranges and synthesizes the elements of our environment to the betterment (and, yes, sometimes detriment) of ourselves and our fellow humans. That, to me, is the height of morality... knowing that we are passionate and using that passion to constructive ends. Sitting on the emotional sidelines critiquing passion wholly misses this fact. And by denying that, you cut yourself off from appreciating that passion and science go hand in hand to creatively alleviate human suffering and lack.

I'd like to hear your "highest ambition" beat that.

5/03/2009 6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"you seem fixated on this idea of playing the "I bet I can track this back to ego" game."

It's not really much of a bet since it's always a sure thing.

"you think our rational abilities are separate from our passions."

No. One can be very passionate about becoming more and more rational. I have no problem with that. However, as one actually becomes more purely rational, the delusion of the finite self (ego) begins to fall apart and since it is the source of all emotions, they will get progressively weaker until they stop appearing completely. This does not mean that you end up as an unfeeling automaton. It really means that your passion has born fruit. If a seeker did not have passion to begin with they would never have set out on the journey at all.

I agree with what you said about creativity and as far as art and music, etc. go, it's a good thing.

However, your idea of morality leaves a lot to be desired. First of all "knowing that we are passionate" has nothing to do with morality. A serial killer or child molester can know for certain that they have passion. What good is that? As for using our passion for "constructive ends", the criticism is pretty much the same. How do you decide which constructive ends are the ones we should be spending time and energy on? How can you know with any certainty if what you deem constructive is not actually destructive? What is right and what is wrong in terms of our conduct in the world? That's what morality really is.

5/04/2009 2:27 AM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

I'm sorry anon, but if you aren't going to give due consideration to what I'm actually writing, I'm not going to continue the discussion.

Take care, and watch out for that ego. It thinks its diagrams are achievements. I'll take "doers" over "seekers" any day.

kev

5/04/2009 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm actually giving more consideration to what you're saying than you are.

I'll take "doers" too but only if they've very carefully thought about what they want to do before they do it.

5/04/2009 12:02 PM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

duh. Really? Hadn't thought of that.

5/04/2009 7:00 PM  
Anonymous Chad said...

Speaking from an English perspective, as a nation we comitted everything to defeat Hitler because Nazism was simply 'evil'. We could have cut a deal which financially would have been easier but we felt a moral imperative to take on the fight. And I think this is why most people joined up, to protect themselves, their families and their country. I really don't think male ego came into it to any significant degree and all this pompous intellectualizing says more about people today than generations before. I think Bundy felt he had to make a contribution, saw and experienced some terrible things and being sensitive found life impossible to cope with after it was over.

5/05/2009 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kev: Well, you might want to give it some more thought.

Chad: If people didn't have ego at any point in their life they would just let someone like Hitler bulldoze over them. They'd be like flowers or trees that don't complain when they are stepped on or cut down.

5/06/2009 12:20 AM  
Anonymous Chad said...

I suppose you could argue that Hitler's personality was ruled by his ego but I don't think the desire to protect oneself comes from the same place,that's all about self preservation, a defensive, not assertive emotion. Someone trying to inflict a clearly wrong analysis over other people is also a prime example of the ego unchecked :^)

5/06/2009 6:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Hitler was ruled by his ego, but so are we all, at least in the beginning of life. Self-preservation is also tied to the ego. To defend something you simultaneously have to assert something else. For example, defending my right to free speech also asserts that no one has the right to take it away from me.

You seem to think of the ego as something that is purely negative. It isn't. There are positive aspects to having an ego as well, as I've already explained in my previous posts.

5/06/2009 11:38 AM  
Anonymous kev ferrara said...

Ego ego ego ego ego ego ego ego ego ego ego.

Egad!

Why don't you found an ego blog, so we won't have to hear your ego drone on about ego endlessly on this one. Thanks.

5/06/2009 4:37 PM  
Blogger Mellie said...

Just to comment on what Chad writes: "as a nation we comitted everything to defeat Hitler because Nazism was simply 'evil'."

I agree that many of those who joined up shared this motivation, but the British government went to war with Hitler because Germany was a dangerous rival power not out of morality. After all, we appeased Hitler as long as we could, and significant sections of the British elite actually sympathised with him (e.g. members of the royal family). We were rather hoping he'd destroy the USSR for us...

Sorry to distract from the main topic. Enjoyed the post.

5/18/2009 5:53 AM  

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