Slow learning is immediate

Learning is (among other things) for right now.  Learning is a process. The learner, who never stops learning, learns for no better reason than simply to learn.  And because there is no end, no object, for learning, the learner doesn’t ever have to stop (not after Friday’s quiz, not after the paper is turned in, not after graduation, not after publication, not after she becomes old and wise, not after he becomes enlightened).  This kind of never-ending learning  takes a while. That’s why I call it slow.  And, since learning takes place in the now, for the now, and not for some better time that may never even happen, learning is also immediate.

I am delighted to have found Immediatism, a slim but powerful collection of essays by Hakim Bey.  For Bey, the “immediate” in “immediatism” refers to experience that is not mediated.  Immediation, if I understand, fires the middle man for usurping control and ownership of our own experiences. The middle man, the mediator, is most often what we call the media.

I quote for you from his generously anti-copyrighted essay (available in its entirety here).

“All experience is mediated—by the mechanisms of sense perception, mentation, language, etc.–& certainly all art consists of some further mediation of experience.”

“However, mediation takes place by degrees.  Some experiences (smell, taste, sexual pleasure, etc.) are less mediated than others (reading a book, looking through a telescope, listening to a record).  Some media, especially “live” arts such as dance, theater, musical or bardic performance, are less mediated than others such as TV, CDs, Virtual Reality.  Even among the media usually called “media,” some are more & others are less mediated, according to the intensity of imaginative participation they demand.  Print & radio more of the imagination, film less, TV even less, VR the least of all—so far.”

“The tendency of Hi Tech, & the tendency of Late Capitalism, both impel the arts farther & farther into extreme forms of mediation. Both widen the gulf between the production & consumption of art, with a corresponding increase in alienation.”

“Real art is play, & play is one of the most immediate of all experiences.”

“All spectators must also be performers.”

“An obvious matrix for Immediatism is the party.  Thus a good meal could be an Immediatist art project, especially if everyone present cooked as well as ate.  Ancient Chinese & Japanese on misty autumn days would hold odor parties, where each guest would bring a homemade incense or perfume.  At linked-verse parties a faulty couplet would entail the penalty of a glass of wine.  Quilting bees, tableaux vivants, exquisite corpses, rituals of conviviality like Fourier’s “Musum Orgy,” live music & dance—the past can be ransacked for appropriate forms, & imagination will supply more.”

That’s the kind of learning I want to do.

As Slow Learners, we rely heavily on the mediated experiences of reading, writing, watching, and listening. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with being in the audience, is there?  Probably not. Artists need audiences, don’t they?  Yes, and I’d rather play to active participants than to passive recipients, any day.  Mediated experience is fine and dandy, but why stop there? Why just listen to music when you can sing along? And why just sing along when you can dance? And why just sing and dance when you can write and act and create and produce and direct and invent and bake our cakes and eat them too?

Imagine the difference, then, that active, creative play makes in our experience of the arts.  It’s the same difference that direct participation makes in our learning and in our experience of being alive.