TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Not-So-Discreet Charm of Lateral Thinking


Meanwhile, in Vienna: David LaChapelle's dual poster, Once in the Garden 1 & 2, features American transgender model Carmen Carrera playing Eve in one poster and Adam in the other (May 2014). I can't show the whole poster due to Blogger's policies. Image Source: Out.com.

There are a lot of wannabe artistes out there in the online world. But you cannot mistake the genuine type. Only Ms. Dia Sobin at Trans-D Digital Art could find the link between bird song, medieval-derived 3-D geometric art, and lucid dreams about the mathematics of nature. Somehow, she recognizes the buried associations that "decode the living matrix." And I have to thank her for marrying bird song to the underlying art of the universe, because she identified a bird that warbles beautifully outside my window.

I've tried for ages to find its identity. It is not quite the wood thrush Sobin describes: "the song of the male is often cited as being the most beautiful in North America." She cites a 20th century naturalist who wrote: "As we listen we lose the sense of time—it links us with eternity…Its tones…seem like the vocal expression of the mystery of the universe, clothed in a melody so pure and ethereal that the soul still bound to its earthly tenement can neither imitate nor describe it. 

The bird outside my window is a hermit thrush, sampled for the Mockingjay's song in the 2012 film, The Hunger Games. The Globe and Mail writes of the hermit thrush:
A Fluttering of Wings to Lift the Heart: The hermit thrush ... spends its summers in the cool woods of the north. You rarely see it then, because its brown-grey back and speckled white breast are perfect camouflage in the dappled light of the forest.

You know it is there only by its haunting song, perhaps the most beautiful of any North American bird. One ornithology site calls it a “clear, flute-like note followed by a series of ethereal, bell-like ascending and descending tones,” but words can’t really do it justice.
You can hear the hermit thrush's song here, here and here. These are only partial samples of what it can do. Juvenile birds learn songs from their parents, and the one in my yard is a virtuoso, pealing waterfalls of cascading bell notes. It really is unbelievable. The bird sings in stereo.

This point brought me to another surprising fact: American robins are thrushes, whereas European robins look completely different and belong to the flycatcher family. This means the need to preserve robins in the culture was strong enough - it was seen as a bird that sang to Christ on the cross and fetched water for souls in purgatory - that colonists pressed the symbolic role on another bird when they arrived in North America.


Getting to the point, somehow, some day: proponents claim that lateral thinking is synonymous with creative thinking. Critics disagree and call lateral thinking 'divergent.' Image Source: Lateral Action.

Some argue that to think artistically is to think laterally, not linearly. Lateral thinking is defined on Wiki:
Lateral thinking is solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic. The term was coined in 1967 by Edward de Bono.
In this theory, lateral thinkers differ from linear thinkers. Chuck's Lamp gives a simple contrast:
[M]uch of our world is indeed structured upon the concept of logic (very basic logic at least). We learn math, deductive reasoning, and tend to apply these logical processes to our everyday life. Our drive to do so comes from our inherent need, as cognitive humans, to categorize our experiences in our minds and make projections about what the outcome of an action will be. We compare our expectations with our experience, weigh the similarity, and adjust our thought processes as needed. Linear thinkers are very much the same. They start at step one and usually do a good and efficient job of completing the task before moving on to step two. They are driven, focused, and don’t easily get off topic. ...
[By constrast, in lateral thinking h]uman thought [is] characterized by expansion in multiple directions, rather than in one direction, and based on the concept that there are multiple starting points from which one can apply logic to a problem. Non-linear thought increases possible outcomes by not being so certain about the starting point for any logic process. Non-linear thinkers tend to jump forward, and from side to side through the steps of a project, in an effort to see the big picture and tackle those areas where they have the most interest. Where non-linear thinking falters is in finally carrying out the required action, because as a thought process it often encourages a user to agonize incessantly over where to start (that agreed upon truth, from which logic can be applied and action can be taken).
Systemic problems diminish the performance value of the status quo. And this theory suggests that lateral thinkers are better at breaking current thinking patterns or overturning the status quo to solve problems. They ask why accepted values or systems exist. Or to solve a given problem, they engage in
provocation techniques—wishful thinking, exaggeration, reversal, escape, distortion, or arising. The thinker creates a list of provocations and then uses the most outlandish ones to move their thinking forward to new ideas.
It seems that lateral thinkers and linear thinkers are arrayed, facing each other across a great divide of Millennial change. The lateral side is immersed in infinite chaos and displays occasional redemptive epiphanies. For the most part, lateral thinkers gain their insights because they are alienated from the forward march of technological progress qua 'progress.' And the other, linear, side stolidly clings to what remains of stable ideas and pushes relentlessly forward, logically, sometimes with brute force, through tabulation and data management to control, authority and power.

In the push and pull between these mentalities, the future technocracy is up for grabs. Will it, or will it not, become a police state? To put it in a less dire way, consider the words of Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of the United States Congress, who was quoted in a recent documentary: "Stories unite people. Theories divide them." What arcane mix of these two manners of thought will take us down the better path?

LaChapelle's artwork defaced at a Viennese bus stop. Image Source: BBC.

I was reminded of all this on 9 June 2014, when BBC's Hard Talk broadcast an interview between Stephen Sackur and world famous photographer David LaChapelle. Sackur was the voice of inquiring reason. He asked about the uproar caused this spring in Vienna by LaChapelle's transgendered poster for the HIV/AIDS benefit event, Life Ball (31 May 2014) and associated exhibition at Ostlicht Photography Gallery (2 June - 14 September 2014).

LaChapelle is known for his kitsch pop surrealism (see his website portfolio here); his splashy portraits of celebrities are dreams on the verge of nightmares. Think: Bubblegum Salvador DalĂ­ meets Vogue in the subdivision - or the rain forest.

Stephen Sackur wanted to know whether LaChapelle thought it was appropriate to have Carmen Carrera's transgendered nudity simultaneously playing Adam and Eve this spring in Vienna's streets. He asked about small children who could see the poster and ask questions, which they reportedly did, about Carrera, who has male genitalia and female breasts.

LaChapelle dismissed this in the interview, but he did in fact worry about backlash. Both he and his model increased their security during their visit to the city. From Page Six:
“David and Carmen both had four bodyguards each from the minute they landed in Vienna until the minute they left,” said a rep for the photographer, who had an exhibition at a Vienna gallery this week following the Life Ball, which included nude images of Carrera.
The FPO had filed suit against the Life Ball, and its spokesperson claimed that LaChapelle’s work “[doesn’t] just cross the boundaries of good taste…but…also the limits of criminal law.” But the posters, LaChapelle pointed out, had been ­approved as art by the city before they were hung in train stations and other public places.
Some who objected to the images began defacing them by covering up Carrera’s exposed parts with spray paint. One 70-year-old woman, who graffitied the posters after dark, in a local report said of the images of busty Carrera with a penis: “My 4-year-old grandson asked me while walking if I actually also have a spatzi.” (We’ll let you figure out the translation on that one.)
In the end, all the controversy only amped up interest in the LaChapelle work. An original ­image titled Once in the Garden, on which the posters were based, was expected to sell for $41,000 at the Life Ball’s auction, but went for a record-breaking $245,500. An Audi car designed by LaChapelle sold to members of the Missoni family for $136,400.
“Art was victorious…it was all love,” LaChapelle told Page Six of the event, where Ricky Martin and Kesha performed, and guests included Bill Clinton and Courtney Love.
LaChapelle passionately pleaded that his work is not pornographic, that Once in the Garden is a Botticelli-esque expression of unfettered beauty. Once marginalized sexual imagery is no longer marginal but mainstream. In response, Sackur asked about LaChapelle's furry-oriented photo of a half-nude Angelina Jolie having her breast nuzzled by a horse. Is that mainstream too?

It's all art, a simple capture of a beautiful moment, LaChapelle insisted, never pornography. And yet, Sackur remarked, LaChapelle's photos are elaborately staged. They're not spontaneous; they carry carefully-crafted, highly stylized, well-thought-out messages. LaChapelle dismissed this. His photos are expressions of pure, free beauty.

Although his theme was Eden, LaChapelle was convinced that the real source of lost innocence is violence in today's world, not sexuality. He spoke of the pre-AIDS American gay scene as a relatively innocent time, compared to the present day, and he criticized violence in video games. BBC:
"We are really in the dark ages. The body is shameful and yet killing and torture is entertainment. That is the real pornography. That is the real evil and that is the real darkness. Just because she is different, what are you offended about? Are you offended about the breasts or the male genitalia?"
Most reports on this news item contrast art and pornography. Others discuss blurred gender roles and sexuality, a continuing trend which spanned the whole past century. Yet others see this event in terms of morality and politics. But I had to wonder: is LaChapelle's work a marvellous example of lateral thinking smashing the status quo? We certainly expect him to be the lateralist. Or did Sackur point at something quite the opposite, namely, that LaChapelle is a closeted linear thinker asserting what is now a new status quo? It is not hard to imagine that advanced body and gender modifications and changing social roles are establishing a New Normal.
Image Source.

It was once easier to spot the difference between linearists and lateralists. In 1975, Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt created a deck of cards to encourage creative thinking and help people grapple with potential futures. The deck was called Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas. It was based on lateral thinking and mimicked the I Ching, using a type of imaginative divination as a means for solving problems. This archetypal/anti-archetypal problem-solving technique is also offered to readers of today's horoscopes. Eno insisted that the cards helped him produce music. It was a work strategy that became a lifestyle.

An artist friend, C., mentioned the Oblique Strategies deck in the same week as the BBC Hard Talk broadcast. He was probing Oblique Strategies' random statements while working. You can see online decks here and here. I clicked on another online deck and got: Convert a melodic element into a rhythmic element.

Director Richard Linklater featured the cards in his film, Slacker (1991). The film presented a stereotypical picture of Gen X lateral thinkers as unemployed, alienated, hopeless, but nevertheless curiously charming ragamuffins spouting bits of offbeat wisdom.

Oblique strategies cards in a clip from Slacker (1991). Video Source: Youtube.

Did the lateralists, once marginalized, become mainstream authorities? Are they oriented toward a feminine type of thinking, as the film clip above suggests? Is there a counter-movement, a backlash of masculine-styled linear thinkers who want to take direct action? Perhaps there is a growing realm of Millennial regret between the two. We are all hounded by contrasting injunctions in the touchy-feely mass media:

Be more. Dream bigger. You didn't dream big enough. Dream bigger and dream more. Prove you are a true creative soul, a genuine individual; therein lies the path to success.

Or:

Do more. Accomplish more. You didn't do enough. Stop thinking and act. Work conquers all. The wealth you acquire in exchange for actions and accomplishments will signify your path to success.

Is there a false contrast here between artistes and bean counters? Do these competing demands create cultures of fake egos, mock introspection, sham creativity and empty action? They might, because a real lateral thinker accomplishes things in a way that looks linear in retrospect; and a true linear thinker can produce complex, yet broad, lateral-looking results. Perhaps there is no dichotomy, and as LaChapelle implied in Vienna, it is all the same question.

2 comments:

  1. Wow! A perfect example of lateral thinking if there ever was! And a perfect analysis!

    Re: Hermit Thrush - you know, I was going to suggest your bird was that variety, but I mistakenly thought they only resided in the deep forests and not anywhere near human habitats. I'd say you're one of the lucky, chosen few to have one outside our window! Really marvelous.

    "Where non-linear thinking falters is in finally carrying out the required action, because as a thought process it often encourages a user to agonize incessantly over where to start (that agreed upon truth, from which logic can be applied and action can be taken)."

    Oh, too (agonizingly) true! However, If lateral thinking is, indeed, feminine, then perhaps the solution is for lateral thinkers to develop a little more spatzi!

    Thanks for the hat-tip, and thanks for the wonderful post - it made my day. :-)

    (And, thanks for the mention of Eno's Oblique Strategies... It's intrigued me in the past. Card decks of any variety encourage lateral thinking... but, what better choice of titles than "oblique strategies"?"

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    1. Glad you liked it Dia. Maybe linear thinkers need a little more water weight, heh.

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