Bethany Thomas – Dichotomy – A Thesis Extract

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Beth Thomas – Dichotomy

Thesis Extract by Bethany Thomas

Yorke says “Art… encapsulates the continuing battle between order and chaos” and “art owes its continuous evolution to the Apollonian – Dionysion duality” (Yorke, 2018). I think everything owes its advancement to this dichotomy. In layman’s terms the Apollonian, Dionysion duality is the notion of order verses chaos (Apollo representing order and Dionysus representing chaos).

Paglia argues that humans developed through revolt against chthonic forces of nature turning instead to the Apollonian trait of ordered creation . I think this is a battle that has been raging for centuries. Once we achieve a semblance of order (classicism for example) humanity gets despondent and revolts. This can even be seen in The Matrix:

“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered? Where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this,” (The Matrix, 1999).

Even when everything can be predicted and goes well, we feel a sense of uncertainty and strive to find chaos. We need unpredictability to create and thrive. But still we are driven by this dichotomy. Humanity seems to “oscillate between a crisis of death and the correlative crisis of life: between the story of the unbearable nature of an event and the story of the unbearable nature of its survival” (Caruth quoted in Saltzman, 2006). The “Greatest question we ask ourselves: What happens when we die?” (‘Beyond Death’, 2016) perhaps our narratives encapsulate this? Death informs life, fear of dread of life ending motivates us and holds us back, “(I’m) Afraid of not having done enough… of not living enough. I would say this drives me as much as anything. A fear of not living” (Clark, 2017). Death appears repeatedly in literature, theatre and every form of art imaginable, it unites every living being in our universe, and it is the only thing we can be sure of. As Alexander the Great said, “I’ve come to believe the fear of death drives all men Hephaestion” (Alexander, 2004). Death is then seen as chaos and life is an attempt to impose order. “We cannot accept chaos; we have to order it” (Yorke, 2018).

“Uncertainty is a fundamental condition of human life. We try to master it by discovering the regularities in events which enable us to predict and control them…The human mind possesses a marvellous capacity to perceive order and design in the welter of experience. We can abstract from each unique event the qualities which make it recognisable as one of a class of events whose behaviour we can learn to predict, creating a world of assumed stability” (Marris, 1996). We try to predict every eventuality but we can never do this completely accurately so we rely on things that worked in the past. So what about art such as abstract-expressionism that appears spontaneous?

“Automatic art is seemingly without intention… Automatic writing used in art. Dreams? Unintentional work from dreams like surrealism so this art is then art without initial intention,” however “art making is an intentional activity, even if it incorporates non-deliberate, unconscious, and spontaneous processes,” (Livingston, 2005), how can both be true? “At first glance Pollock’s Abstract-expressionism appears to be chaotic but dig deeper and it’s possible to detect an underlying structure there too. Pollock’s paintings are ‘fractal’, tiny sections of the work mimic the structure of the whole; simple geometric patterns are repeated in different magnifications,” (Yorke, 2018). “Every utterance, however intangible, is at some level an expression of intent,” (Yorke, 2018). “He (Pollock) let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between.” (Ex Machina, 2015).

“Storytelling, then, is born from our need to order everything outside ourselves… it is only through story that we are able to bring our inner selves into line with the external world. In that process some kind of sense is made, and if we’re lucky, some kind of truth discovered” (Yorke, 2018). This idea is mirrored in The Runaway Species “For thousands of years, the arts have given us direct access to our inner lives, offering us glimpses not only of what we think about, but also how we think. No culture in human history has been without its, music, visual arts and storytelling” (Eagleman and Brandt, 2018). “Finally mental health is about the ability to impose order” (Yorke, 2018).

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#17 – The Mind – Contributors