On Being An Archivist of One's Own Life
Last month I went into a little detail about my return visit to my former home of Boston.
Embedded inside is my little theory about the snapshot which consists in my mind to at least two parts: those objects or performances that are simply found in a more or less raw and unprocessed state, and those that are highly produced and created, sometimes with a great deal of difficulty and work. It is the latter that often goes by our name of "art".
To name a mere two example, for the former kind of snapshot here is a photo I have saved of my father Aubrey Hampton doing one of our many Aubrey Organics shows in the years and decades in which we did natural products conventions.
I do have some of these artifacts from the 70s through the 90s, but as per usual not as many as I should like.
I am thankful I do have the ones that I had the conscientiousness and foresight to save. A lot of this stuff will form the inspiration for a book I am writing about my life as well as the company and industry in which the company played a most important part.
And, more or less randomly chosen, a couple of examples of the second type of snapshot are Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or John Cassavetes' film A Woman Under The Influence, both of which were worked by people over a specified amount of time and in which the process therein had to yield to a finished product that is music or film, respectively.
Yet, when we look at either one, they become a snapshot for us of that artists' work - whether the performances in live concert or recording studio, or the screening of a film at Metrograph theatre or living room stream or screen. For me a snapshot is not just a still from the film or phrase of measures of music but these objects in their entirety too.
There are also mental snapshots.
I plan to open my book with one of my earliest memories - in the months to a year after birth - which is the feeling and aroma of being in a crib surrounded by what to me were large containers or vats of herbs. The most powerful and enveloping of these was eucalyptus, and, later, Quillaia bark. I guess these were stored near me because there was the space there. All of this is a most unusual and atypical family arrangement, one that encompasses the manufacturing of products in a business that shared physical space with a house and home.
For me the feeling or mood of a thing always comes first, in this case these herbs, for which I did not yet know the names purposes or meanings. Now I have a bias here and I don't mean the bias that the memory is from my own life as experienced from inside.
Rather, I mean the bias towards what I could call sensation or mood in priority over conclusions. That is, I loved the vibes that these two herbs gave off and was less interested in the political, ecological and economic meanings behind how those were extracted or used by consumers, potential or real. Now I do not have any physical snapshot of that room or those "vats" of herbs.
But were I to make a movie with a scene of a baby in a crib in that room, in a representational recreation then that could be one kind of snapshot.
Now when something like that goes out into the world everybody will have an opinion - about childrearing rules, about herbs, about cosmetics and health and heaven knows what else. Those opinions may or may not help them to appreciate well my hypothetical movie.
When we consider these later matters we are considering a more comprehensive view of the matter.
When I compile all of these given and found snapshots from my life if it is to ever be included a project for public view, it is always with the goal of communicating something to somebody else. Communication might be the most important thing in our lives really, because it is one of the few, precious alternatives to a fate that is far worse, if not THE worst.
Spring seems a most appropriate time to be discussing this here as we are discussing a birth of new project.
But in truth this could have been undertaken at any moment in a natural cycle, even in "dead of Winter". Recently I had the immense opportunity to finally finish Adrian Piper's Rationality and the Structure of the Self.
There are many matters she addresses in that book that are applicable to my project - as well as this podcast overall.
She is greatly influenced and inspired by Immanuel Kant and one of the insights she expresses is that Kant feels as humans we have an imperative for what I would call comprehension rather than mere sensation or feeling.
Now the period in my earliest life I just summarized above is what we would call a perceptual affair, and a raw one at that. Noe perception is surely important - it has all the "feels" as younger generations might say. But reading Piper has me, among many other things, including falling in love again with Immanuel Kant, taking conception more seriously than ever before. I think our fears about the abuse or misuse of concepts, in false ones, for example, could lead us astray in overlooking how indispensable conception is to our very experience.
Adrian Piper has a passage that expresses this quite well.
She writes a kind of philosophy that has been called analytic and she is one of the major thinkers and writers in that tradition, alongside a most important art career since at least the 1970s.
"Thus Kant’s explanation of conceptual content runs as follows. Through the process of directly intuiting objects in themselves, we receive unmediated representations from them in inner sense. We then synthesize these intuitional representations according to a certain kind of conceptual function that organizes and unifies them. By thus unifying them conceptually, we give them content. This 'transcendental content' – i.e. content generated by objects to which we have no unmediated conceptual access – is the unified analytical content of the pure concepts of the understanding, i.e. those which conjointly determine how we conceive objects. This analytical conceptual content in turn provides the logical form of judgments we make about them. Now I suppose it would be possible to quibble about the distinction between transcendental content, conceptual content, and semantic content. But I do not think this would be worthwhile, because it would not obscure the most important point, that judgment is not the fundamental unit of awareness for Kant; intuitional representations are".
Admittedly this passage might be more difficult for readers who have not been inducted into the analytic tradition. Interestingly enough, this is one of the more "accessible" passages in the work.
I feel this notion of the primacy of "intuitional representation" has changed the way I go about projects like being an archivist or doing a podcast. The sensation I tried in vain to describe above, the effect of herbs upon a newborn nervous system and soul is of course very important and perceptual.
Yet perception alone is insufficient: in a famous work by Kant, What Is Enlightenment, he discusses how we have to eventually own our own life and its choices, a process synonymous for him with what we would say in a more casual language today as "growing up".
He talks of "daring to use or having the courage of one's own reason." And one of the things that goes into a reason is some kind of comprehensive picture of what one has experienced, including the real environment of the world in which we happen to find ourselves.
This is why language and naming is important.
This is one of a couple of cases in which I have changed my mind over my life. As I have said too many times before, life is a process of lifelong learning. It is a great privilege and honor to be able able to revise and change one's perceptions nad conceptions of the world.
Art is at the center of it all.