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Pathetic Fallacy

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The Apophene
The Apophene

Mixed Media
8.5" x 8.5"

"The Apophene" refers to the vision of Saint Eustace, a 2nd century Roman martyr. Eustace's conversion was inspired by a vision of the cross in the antlers of a stag, and led to a series of misfortunes, much like Job, and his eventual martyrdom. Saint Eustace is thus a patron saint of people facing adversity, among other things.

The antlers of my stag, a 24-point stag in fact, are fashioned so as to spell the word "apophenia." Apophenia is a word denoting an observer's errant perception of a meaningful pattern among unrelated phenomena or datasets.

I have placed my scene in a forest, with colors and shapes taken from my memory of a Horace Pippin painting in the Butler Institute, which in actuality is much more subdued, even turbid compared to the colors as I remembered seeing them.

Understanding is limited by the nature of human sense apparati. It is reduced further by language and its delineation of categories such as "sense apparati" and the prescriptive descriptions of possible reactions. Still, consciousness seems to require complete faith in sensory perception and the fidelity of language to work at all, even where it is administered in doubt of itself. I can attempt to separate into two selves by imagining the voice in my mind that refers to itself as "I" as "it," but even this is still underlied by the original thinking "I" that is having the thought that it is an "it" and not "I." Apophenic experiences are potentially interesting set amidst this.

By combining the word "apophenia" with the stag of St. Eustace's vision, I mean to evoke the tension inherent in the mediation of internal, subjective experience through word and thought. The sublime difficulty of trying to adequately make perception and experience effable and objective, no less of giving form to truth, and the schism of the hermeneutic circle are themes of the Pathetic Fallacy exhibition, for which this image was made. Likewise, the risk of putting one's faith into one's own intuition and into revelation is a necessary consideration for the task. Indeed Eustace should make a fitting patron for a picture.

The source of the antler-writing is an interest in shibboleths: articles manifesting privileged knowledge that signifies membership or non-membership in a group. All groups seem to share some amount of communal, yet privileged knowledge, whether it takes a generic and common form, such as inside jokes and jargon, or something more charged and specific to particular groups, like a form of stylized script legible only to the initiated among a group. The shibboleth-form I have devised is in the camp of these encoded scripts; I use this device to interject word-level meanings in a way that is more integrated with the picture than a caption or expository text may be, and at the same time to avoid concretizing the meaning/experience with an overly-rationalized sentence-level iteration. A great amount of significance is attributed to the forms manifesting privileged knowledge as far as the definition of the self is concerned, which is an interesting notion to me as it at once involves the I as well as everything external to the I as active, or activating, participants. What Freud described as "the narcissism of minor differences" appears to be fueled to increasingly finer levels of differentiation by the working economics of privileged knowledge. The play between consciousness and these charged, coded forms is fascinating in the vastness of cultural meaning it can generate and even prescribe, and is perhaps a key to aesthetics. There is a quality of apophasis in the increasing granularity and nuance of the methods of categorization through which the character of a group is asserted as distinct; the negation of the other thing can be as important as any additive quality of the new thing. Another theme of my oeuvre, the biological metaphor of human activity as metabolism to humanity's abstract concepts, that humans are effectively subordinate to the things of which we speak and that those things are living organisms themselves in that they seem to exert energy, is served here by the idea of shibboleths. In recent speculation on memes, for instance, the apparent "life of its own" quality of memes is often commented on and in fact may be the essence of the concept. The livingness of the vital facets of my pictures expressed in encoded forms of script is suggested by their being formed out of biological entities, in this instance, the antlers of a stag.


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