Alex, your music seems to have a lot to do with truth, and in particular a kind of process of liberation from truth. Tell me about that.
The title Emerging from the House of Truth sums it up perfectly. What we previously called the "window of culture" we will now call the "house of truth". The idea is that "truth", or what we understand as "truth" as a basis for everyday action, is fundamentally incomplete, but can also be inhabited. This "truth" is religion, science, metaphysics, even music (by some definitions) -- the fixed set of paradigms through which we interpret and understand the world. This is not really an understanding but a construction of the world -- because the world always remains outside and beyond human limitation. We live not in the world-as-it-is but in an analogue of that world, a partial reality that selects, limits, and divides at its choosing. And this analogue is what we call "truth".
So truth is a limited space. It claims to open us to the world-as-it-is, yet it can equally be like an enclosure or "house", always ensuring that world is out of view. Outside our analogues, the world is vast and uncertain. We inhabit the house of truth like a shelter. Its appeal is an illusion of certainty, and this is an illusion we have created.
The image I have is of an infant in a womb. Does this make any sense?
Yes! Actually, the womb is a good metaphor, because it is a place of darkness. Normally we associate darkness with uncertainty, but here uncertainty is a sort of light or enlightenment -- an awakening -- because it occurs when we look outside this comfortable shelter. Certainty requires we remain within it. So I do think of certainty as a type of darkness, like the darkness of a womb. The real light is located outside the created "certainties" of man. But this is not a light which inspires comfort or resolution, instead it inspires awe and wonder. The shapeless light of infinity. This is the light we want to open ourselves to. But to do it we have to emerge from the shelter of "truth".
This is another reason the womb is a good metaphor: it is a place of temporary accommodation. An infant does not remain in the womb, it is born. It must ultimately emerge from that enclosure, into a shapeless light. So too must we emerge from the enclosure of truth if we wish to be "born" into the world as it is.
Do you think people want this kind of birth?
I think perhaps we fear it, but only because of how we perceive uncertainty. We see uncertainty as a threat, whereas really it is a liberation. Of course the shapeless light appears vast and frightening compared to the sanctuary of created truth. But this was a limiting and oppressive sanctuary to begin with. Heidegger might say we are reminded of this in moments of boredom and anxiety, when the "certainties" we have painstakingly built into our life suddenly reveal their transparency, and we are granted a glimpse of this vast and shapeless light. Traditionally, these are understood as our "darkest" moments, but perhaps they are moments of light and revelation. Perhaps they are the beginnings of this birth. There is no doubt that in these moments we are scared. Truth is crumbling, the ground is disappearing from beneath our feet, and nothing can be seen in terms of any formerly held framework of meaning. But amongst this apparent destruction is a real liberation.
Truth limits experience. At heart we know there is an uneasy discrepancy between the world we experience and the truth which claims to clarify it. Yet in "normal" consciousness truth still manages to win out. We are continually disregarding so much of what we genuinely experience just because it does not fall within the discrete limits of "truth". This is why emerging from truth is a liberation. Truth as an enterprise is incapable of defining and classifying the real breadth of what we experience. But does this mean we should ignore what we experience? Or does it rather give us a clue as to the inadequacy of "truth"?
I can certainly see the liberation, but do you think it is a desirable liberation for most people?
I'm not really sure, except to say perhaps it is not really a choice many people have. At the same time as we fear this formless, infinite light, we are running out of places where we feel genuinely "safe" from it anyway. Truth now is not the sturdy, impenetrable shelter it once was. The analogues, principles, and ideologies once revered as timeless are now coming to be understood as illusions specific to time, culture, social agenda. Not only this, but the very notion of ideology itself, the notion that reality is reducible to any limited/systematic analogue at all, is being called into question on an individual level. So the shelter is still in place, but it is more fragile, more transparent than ever before. The shapeless light is beginning to filter into the house and into our awareness. Whether we want a "birth" or not, it might be inevitable.
But isn't this questioning of truth what occurs continually throughout history?
No, I think the historical process is different. History sees a continual updating of truth, not a calling into question of truth itself as an entire enterprise. This is not quite the same liberation, because the enclosure of truth is not lifted, it is merely modified. The light, at the times we have caught glimpses of it, has inspired us not to emerge from the shelter but to reinforce the shelter. A new beam of light filters in and immediately we are designing new structures to suppress and manipulate its flow. So although we are liberated from one truth, we are born into another! And as long as there is a truth, there is a certain blindness to what lies outside the border it traces.
But the process I'm talking about is not global or political; it occurs in the individual.
Okay, let's talk about that. Can you expand on that?
It's hard to convey that this is not an annihilation of truth but a shift in the way a person views it. The "birth" is not a physical event, it is an event of perception. Truth doesn't go anywhere; we still have analogues, limitations, etc. (because we need them), but instead of being enclosures blocking the light, they become channels for the light to shine through.
So the analogues can either mask or reveal the light.
That's right, but whether the analogue masks or reveals has nothing to do with the analogue itself, it concerns the way we perceive it. In other words, to change the role of the analogue, we don't need a new and better analogue, we need a new attitude towards the analogue altogether. A new way of seeing it.
The new attitude has to take into account both the necessity and transparency of the analogue. The analogue is essentially inconsequential to what is important -- that is, the ultimate light it mediates -- yet, perceptually, without the analogue this light is inaccessible, nothing but a massive, blinding force which we can't grasp or comprehend in any sense. So analogues are necessary, but they must also remain transparent. The moment we see the analogue non-transparently, as an entity in its own right, it ceases to provide that point of access, and instead acts to conceal the light and overshadow it.
Can you put that in musical terms?
Well, if we look at the musician's view of sound, we see that it generally takes the form of analogues, or "media": the analogue of the instrument, of the composer's personality, of fixed scales, stylistic practices, forms, functions. But the real power and majesty of sound is beyond all of these things. We fail to connect with this inherent power precisely because we are so caught up with these analogues -- they occupy our entire attention, because most music requires they occupy our entire attention.
We could refer to these analogues as the building blocks of the house, and to sound as the shapeless light surrounding it. Of course the light still filters into the house, but the house has a tendency to trap the light and confine it to a particular shape. This is because we tend to view the house non-transparently. It is literally all we notice, because, again, in most music it is all we are asked to notice.
This whole situation has forced our experience of sound into a particular shape, so much so that when we come across an aspect of sound that falls outside this shape, we are more likely to ignore it than to question the shape itself. This is a dangerous situation, and one that threatens cultural stagnation continually.
What would happen if instead of ignoring these "inconsistencies", we embraced them? What would happen if we heeded this call to question the shape? We would be forced to seize a new approach that did not simply update the shape, but which took into account its fundamental transparency. This would be a call not to discard the shapes we have, but to see them as they really are: media of an awesome and limitless sound.
As far as I can see, this call can no longer be ignored.
Thank you, Alex.
Alex Carpenter (© 2003)