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.   

death in stereo

Speeding along on the 401 back from Toronto yesterday, we listened to an audio tape of the Dalai Lama’s Advice on Dying.   The book includes a lot of  preachy stuff about impermanence, and how living a virtuous life will help you to die a better death. We misplaced the folder with the rest of the tapes, so when the first tape was up, we decided to listen to the other audio book we brought, Philip Roth’s Everyman.  Growing weary of listening to His Holiness drone on about giving up my pet attachments: friends, food, beauty, sex I was happy to switch to Roth.

Wouldn’t you know it, Roth starts out Everyman with a burial.  What becomes clear almost immediately is that the main character in the coffin was never a follower of the Dalai Lama.  The miseries of living the non virtuous life are detailed as we learn more and more about this very human, and thus very likable, womanizing advertising exec. Not a pretty sight.

When the scenery grew too gruesome in the Roth novel (detailed descriptions of advanced aging), we hunted the back seat till we found the Dalai Lama lecture, listened for a bit, then returned to Roth.  We ping ponged back and forth and back and forth,  from the sublime to the concrete and then back again. (Not unlike our trips from Dayton to Toronto, although I’m not sure which is which.)

There was, and is, no escape.

I highly recommend the stereo experience. I’m wondering what other books would listen well together. Suggestions anyone?