richard_foreman's picture
Playwright & Director; Founder, The Ontological-Hysteric Theater
Radicalized relativity

In my area of the arts and humanities, the most dangerous idea (and the one under who's influence I have operated throughout my artistic life) is the complete relativity of all positions and styles of procedure. The notion that there are no "absolutes" in art — and in the modern era, each valuable effort has been, in one way or another, the highlighting and glorification of elements previous "off limits" and rejected by the previous "classical" style.

Such a continual "reversal of values" has of course delivered us into the current post-post modern era, in which fragmentation, surface value and the complex weave of "sampling procedure" dominate, and "the center does not hold".

I realize that my own artistic efforts have, in a small way, contributed to the current aesthetic/emotional environment in which the potential spiritual depth and complexity of evolved human consciousness is trumped by the bedazzling shuffle of the shards of inherited elements — never before as available to the collective consciousness. The resultant orientation towards "cultural relativity" in the arts certainly comes in part from the psychic re-orientation resulting from Einstein's bombshell dropped at the beginning of the last century.

This current "relativity" of all artistic, philosophical, and psychological values leaves the culture adrift, and yet there is no "going back" in spite of what conservative thinkers often recommend.

At the very moment of our cultural origin, we were warned against "eating from the tree of knowledge". Down through subsequent history, one thing has led to another, until now — here we are, sinking into the quicksand of the ever-accelerating reversal of each latest value (or artistic style). And yet — there are many artists, like myself, committed to the believe that — having been "thrown by history" into the dangerous trajectory initiated by the inaugural "eating from the tree of knowledge" (a perhaps "fatal curiosity" programmed into our genes) the only escape possible is to treat the quicksand of the present as a metaphorical "black hole" through which we must pass — indeed risking psychic destruction (or "banalization") — for the promise of emerging re-made, in new still unimaginable form, on the other side.

This is the "heroic wager" the serious "experimental" artist makes in living through the dangerous idea of radicalized relativity. It is ironic, of course, that many of our greatest scientists (not all of course) have little patience for the adventurous art of our times (post Stockhausen/Boulez music, post Joyce/ Mallarme literature) and seem to believe that a return to a safer "audience friendly" classical style is the only responsible method for today's artists.

Do they perhaps feel psychologically threatened by advanced styles that supercede previous principals of coherence? They are right to feel threatened by such dangerous advances into territory for which conscious sensibility if not yet fully prepared. Yet it is time for all serious minds to "bite the bullet" of such forays into the unknown world in which the dangerous quest for deeper knowledge leads scientist and artist alike.