Rendered Fat Content


Friedrich Amerling: The Young Eastern Woman (1838)

"The cost/benefit analysis of every artistic endeavor,
SetTheory concludes, produces only The Null Set …"

In my apparent insistence to at least attempt to overthink every damned thing I engage in, I stumbled upon the poisonous question: Why? Why seems naked standing alone. It seems to need a question mark attached to its backside, as if to conceal something, and why(?) probably has much to conceal. Its unceasing attempts to justify come as close to original sin as anything anyone could possibly engage in, primarily because it asks a fundamentally unanswerable question. Nothing anyone might muster in response could possibly satisfy it. It sparks excuses, sure, and often long-winded explanations which ultimately fail to explain to anyone's full satisfaction. It amounts to distraction, focusing attention away from essence and toward insistence, like any "good" advertisement attempts. Its likely purpose seems to be to sidetrack focus, to undermine true inevitably unspeakable purpose, and to encourage a commercial mediocrity upon activities which hardly deserve this. As I said above, Why(?) almost always proves poisonous.

In business school I learned how to concoct cost/benefit analysis, this to guide what was labeled decision-making.
In the ideal case, choices would be made based upon quantifiable conditions, countable costs and assessable benefits. In practice, this never proved to be the case, but Heaven forbid that anyone adjust their methods to adapt to anything as meaningless as fact. The facts were instead manipulated to fit into the formulas, with uncountables associating with numbers just as if they were old and collegial acquaintances. The results were superficially indistinguishable from actuals, giving rise to an advanced science of lies, damned lies, as well as statistics, whole bodies of so-called knowledge came into common practice, all to enrich the darker parts of the darkest arts, Justifying.

Few thought to ask after the end product of all this whying; the old and often hackneyed "and if you had that what would you have?" After all, it seemed too annoying, since answering it merely beggared a repeat of the same question, ad infinitum. There could never be any bottom, since answering just seemed to renew its ammunition supply. Why, then, ask why? Such inquiry can only open a parallel inquisition, also without a bottom. The wisest, perhaps, come to unmask the question and take to pondering which shortcoming encouraged its original asking, which angel committed this original sin? In business, of course, which has always been a form of legalized coercion, justification soothes the inevitably guilty conscience. If one's pulling a profit, they well understand the hardship they impose upon their co-called customer. They do not even pretend to be a benevolent association. Their business model utterly depends upon extracting without deeply offending, but complicity accumulates anyway. One eventually feels the Scrooge living within, and ghosts haunt on the snowier winter evenings. Justifying can sometimes soothe the justifiably restless spirit.

In artistic endeavors, Justifying undermines. Art never was a commercial enterprise. It manifests as contribution rather than as product. There was no good reason any one of the great artists throughout history produced. They were itching an undeniable urge. Asking them why might have elicited the same response the eponymous caterpillar produced when asked how he managed to walk without stepping on himself. The questioner learned that the caterpillar couldn't walk if it thought about how and attempted to justify his cadence. Such over, unnecessary, thinking undermines everything. And so it has been with producing my SetList performance. I thought to ask myself why I felt compelled to do this thing and came up wanting. I could imagine ten thousand lousy reasons and nary a single solitary decisive one. The best I can attest might be a Just Because, before changing the question by means of a little strategy distraction.

I will not perform to impress anyone. Nor will I do it to attempt to reform or inform, either. Why I wrote each song has mostly been lost to unwritten history. I almost half remember that each came as a compulsion to be born. Once they were torn from the ether, they each lived quiet lives, not even trying to get published, recorded, distributed, or sold. Not a single one was ever considered a commercial product or contributed to my bottom line. The Muse agreed to be my patron, since I obviously was not a commercial enterprise. Most of my songs seem better imagined as mysterious dreams, odd one-off constructions, uniques. They came absent justification. I should perform them that way as well. What, then, might compel anyone to sit clear through any performance of them? Hell if I know, but I suspect it might be curiosity, the opposite of Justifying. The better question might ask what might happen rather than expect a prospective conclusion Justifying action. If one expects to live The Great Mystery, one might reasonably expect to have to feed it with inquiry rather than with any of the false certainties Justifying produces. The cost/benefit analysis of every artistic endeavor, SetTheory concludes, produces only The Null Set, but never zero.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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