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  • Writer's pictureTashroom Ahsan

Bad Art: The Final Narcotic

Art, in its possession of beauty, pollutes the scent of the air we walk through. In the beauty of an artwork, there lies a truth, a truth which discloses parts of the earth through the world and the Open. This truth claims to reveal what beings are to us. But what can this truth reveal to us if it holds the earth at an arm’s length? Though the truth in beauty tells us that which is, at one moment, through one piece of artwork, it cannot tell us that which is as time progresses. Truth, then, is a project of moving through truths, and this moving through truths are snapshots of being. But even these truths are partial, even when synthesized, and keep us treading above the earth. They merely inhabit us until we move to the next truth. We follow the scent of truths with our noses, those orifices that maintain a faith for truth. But their scent sickens us, and this faith leads us astray. In maintaining faith in truth, truth as disclosed by art works in all their “beauty,” we delude ourselves to live outside of the earth, the real world, and conceal the pain of treading upon the earth. The scent that keeps us on the path for truth is only surmounted by bad art. Bad art turns truth into itself, turns us backwards to retrace our path, and points out the absurdity of our nose. Bad art fails to disclose novel truth, continuing us on our path, revealing a part of the earth. Instead, it demands we look at ourselves, and, in doing so, destroys the basis of truth that inhabited us. Bad art is our only savior from the bad air of our art.

Heidegger claims that truth happens in the work-being of a work of art. Truth, as a happening, is an “unconcealing” which rests upon the interaction between the world, the earth, the Open, and beings. To understand the unconcealing of truth in art, namely, what the unconcealing is, and what this truth means, we must first comprehend the interaction between the beings which constitute the interaction that enables truth’s unconcealing. Heidegger describes this interaction in cryptic language, which we must dissect.

Heidegger writes that the work itself liberates the Open and establishes it by virtue of being a work (44). The earth, for him, is “essentially self-secluding,” and in being brought into the Open, is set forth (46). The work-being of work sets up a world through which the earth juts, and liberates the Open in which it is set forth (46). From these three descriptions, we find that the world, in setting the earth forth, brings it to the Open. The world, too, moves for“clearing of paths of the essential guiding directions with which all decision complies,” a decision resting upon something concealed (53). The world strives to create paths from the earth through the Open. The earth, “as sheltering and concealing, tends to draw the world into itself and keep it there,” resisting the setting forth that the world draws it towards (47). Here, a conflict emerges between the world and the earth: the earth strives to remain concealed, while the world strives for clearing. This essential striving, the conflict between the world and earth, is where truth itself occurs (58). The truth which occurs is a “particular truth,” or something true; it is a moment, a happening (48). The location of this occurrence, the Open, is where the conflict is won (59). Truth, as a moment, occurs in the Open, where the world brings the earth to light. Truth establishes itself within this Open, allowing it to retain its openness (59). The Open, in the midst of this conflict, is where all beings show themselves and withdraw themselves as being (59). Truth “is established in that which is,” yet rests in the Open which is not, allowing the Open to remain the capacity for beings to not be (60). Truth establishes itself in the work, but wills to be established in the conflict between the world and earth, in the Open, where the world and earth unite.

The relationship between the world, the earth, the Open, truth, and beings, is as follows. The world and the Open both emerge from the work of art. The work of art creates a world. The world latches itself onto earth; the earth which constitutes all that exists, the earth which binds us to the ground, the earth which remains hidden to us; and forces the earth to disclose itself. By dragging earth into disclosure, the world leads it into the Open: that which does not possess being, that which is not, or, rather, the capacity for not existing at all. In this non-existence, truth itself lies. The earth, that which grounds us but remains incomprehensible, acquiesces into unconcealment through the world, which we created and gazed upon, . It loses being and glows in the light of the Open. The loss of being itself is where the work of art, as a being, rests. In the heart of the Open, the light beams, and we finally see a particular truth of the earth, established in this one Open.

Heidegger details the properties of artworks, properties that allow us to understand why this movement can occur. “Art is the becoming and happening of truth,” writes Heidegger (69). Truth happens in the conflict which springs from observing the work of art, yet becomes in the making and preserving in the work itself. “The establishing of truth in the work is the bringing forth of a being such as never was before and will never come to be again,” writes Heidegger (60). A work which establishes truth reveals the earth in a novel way, in a way that cannot ever be replicated, grounding it in a new Open. “All art, as the letting happen of the advent of the truth of what is, is, as such, essentially poetry,” writes Heidegger (70). He writes, too, that “language is poetry in the essential sense,” and “language alone brings what is, as something that is, into the Open for the first time...By naming beings for the first time…[language] nominates beings to their being from out of their being” (72, 71). Language, for Heidegger, is essentially like art insofar as it creates a world of beings by naming them, thereby enabling the advent of truth by nominating their existence to us. Language allows beings to exist to us by bringing them to not exist, illuminating their absence in the Open. Like language, art creates the world by nominating beings by allowing their negation. Therefore art works, to Heidegger, possess three essential qualities: they enable truth’s occurrence, they ought to reveal something novel in a novel manner, and they create the world by enabling the being of beings.

Art reveals what Heidegger refers to as a particular truth, or something true (48). This truth does not claim to be a total truth, nor does it claim to be a final truth. Rather, a truth which is illuminated by art, by language, by the creation of a state, or any of the other modes through which Heidegger claims this truth is revealed, is merely just that: an illumination (60). It reveals a particular part of earth, in a particular light, through a particular Open, through a world that clears paths to move beyond it. His truth is a rest stop: a dwelling. Heidegger offers a truth which can fill in, a working definition where we can stay until it no longer works for us, which comes with a guide into the unknown, or the next truth. We inhabit truth, revealed to us by art, until another work of art brings us to another truth to inhabit, which we take a path towards. We can inhabit both truths at once, should their worlds not overlap. But should these worlds overlap, only one being, one truth, one dwelling, can remain. We take a path from one truth to another. In this way, man can never be homeless, for man can only enter a world in which there are dwellings; worlds are made only by truth. Man always inhabits truth: he needs truth, or else he cannot live. Art opens some worlds, some domains for man to live within, other methods open up other worlds. Yet truth remains man’s dwelling.

Truth houses a being, and truth is only a good house insofar as it is useful. The dwelling of truth must be stable; else man becomes homeless and frantically scours for a new dwelling. Truth, then, is equipment, insofar as its essence is its utility, determined by its reliability (34). As equipment, truth belongs to the earth, but is protected in the world which it creates for itself, the world the man dwells upon (33). Our equipmental truth is only temporary until used up, or is one dwelling on a path of dwellings, just as a hammer is one hammer on a path of hammers. A truth is a good dwelling only if it is stable, and even still, is merely one dwelling on a path of many.

As truth discloses the being of beings to a being, it allows a being to unconceal a part the earth upon which it is bound. Here rests the value of truth, and thereby art works, for Heidegger. Yet Heidegger fails to see the danger in ensuring man has a world, in keeping man in worlds above the earth, in sheltering man in something other than earth in hopes to return to earth. By demanding that man has a home, as truth, Heidegger places man in some deeply dangerous dwellings, dwellings which infect its residential being without the being ever realizing. Nietzsche locates this danger of truth, and describes this illness as a narcotic.

Nietzsche writes directly to the problem of the truthful man, stating:

the truthful man, in the audacious and ultimate sense presupposed by the faith in science, thereby affirms another world than that of life, nature, and history; and insofar as he affirms this ‘other world,’ does this not mean that he has to deny its antithesis, this world, our world? (152)

Nietzsche writes of “faith in science” with reference to the truthful man, but before this passage, he writes of ascetic ideals as another mode of affirmation of another world. In either case, truth is used to construct a truer world, or a true world, transcendental from the world one is grounded on, that is, the earth. In living in faith in “truth,” believing that man has to constantly live in worlds, moving from dwelling to dwelling, taking him from the earth. By removing man from the earth, positing a goal, ascetic ideals and science both alleviate the pain of this world (142). In this way, truth is a narcotic. Truth, then, is both a dwelling and narcotic, one whose essence lies in its reliability, that is, in its constant housing and pain alleviation.

Art reveals truth. It posits the world where truth’s dwelling erects from, drawing us further from earth. Yet how did we reach this conclusion? We placed Nietzsche’s beautiful polemic alongside Heidegger’s beautiful inquiry, and from them extracted an inhabitation. To us, Heidegger revealed something novel, extending beyond our typical faculties of thought. Nietzsche, however, told us something we already knew. We, in reading Heidegger, are truthful men, engaged in a scientific excavation of what is, though we use different means than science or asceticism. We justify our knowledge with what feels true, which Heidegger rings near, causing us to trust him. We seek shelter, which Heidegger offers. We have been doing precisely what Nietzsche said we were doing, and we were aware of that; we loved our project for it. Nietzsche’s polemic is bad art, for it revealed to us what we already knew: that we value truth. Nietzsche takes us back on our path, to a world we have left, to a dwelling we have already departed from.

But what more does Nietzsche’s bad art do to us? We have returned to a world we have left, entering from a different path. The world Nietzsche brings us to destroy the world we were once at, the world of Heidegger’s art works, but this world is itself already destroyed, since we departed from it. The dwelling collapsed, the trees ablaze, the path eroding, we begin to fall through the world that we already destroyed. The narcotic is no longer useful; it is unreliable, because Nietzsche returns us to the pain that led us to depart this world. This truth is a truth which collapses upon itself, a world which destroys all worlds, the narcotic that ends all narcotics, the worst equipment of all equipment. Bad art collapses the path of truth by burying us in the pain we departed from by living in worlds that rest upon earth. We have fallen beneath the world, pierced by the earth just as the world. We now tread upon the painful earth.

Bad art turns truth inward, forcing truth to stare back at itself. It asks, “what is the truth of the truth that I have dwelled in?” just as Nietzsche forces us to do in his polemic. Bad art does not allow us to continue dwelling on worlds that allow us to maintain only part of the earth; it throws us back down onto the bare, naked earth and challenges us to find a world with our new injuries. Bad art returns man to question truth by collapsing truth; it does not offer a new dwelling. It dismantles the enabling of the being of beings by annihilating the world which allowed us to find the truth in artworks. Nietzsche collapses Heidegger, as we collapse ourselves, by creating bad art which negates the purpose of all art.

Bad art saves us. It is art which tries not to posit a small singular of the Open, but forces us into unknowing, the state from which we stem. It closes the Open. It forces us to bear our pains, to be lost and homeless. It forces us to to begin anew. It is only through bad art that the leading scent vanishes and we vagabonds, we men of truth, are reset. Bad art liberates us from art, and truth, itself.

Heidegger writes of the disclosure of the earth which art enables, by creating a world which allows truth to illuminate parts of the earth in the Open. Heidegger’s truth, the particular truth, is an inhabitation created by individual disclosures of truth: by one piece of artwork, by the creation of a state, by a revelation from another being, by language, and by means of other disclosing acts. This truth has movement, it inhabits us temporarily, and no one particular truth demands faith. Yet Heidegger’s project, demanding that man inhabit truths to continue disclosing the earth, or the totality of beings, to himself, a being, in order to locate himself in the world, necessitates a faith in truth. Nietzsche criticizes such a faith in truth, declaring that by moving us from the earth into worlds which partially disclose the earth, we strip ourselves of the homelessness of dwelling in the earth itself; we alleviate ourselves with a narcotic. In revealing the faith Heidegger has, Nietzsche forces us to turn into our faith in truth, something we know of and presupposed. Nietzsche does not reveal to us a new truth of beings from earth, but rather, he turns us back to one we already departed from. Through his polemical “Genealogy of Morals,” Nietzsche forms a piece of bad artwork that turns truth to question truth, thereby destroying the basis of faith in truth (a constant, continual path) by returning it to a destroyed dwelling, resetting the path of a truth-seeking man. He ends the narcotic of truth-revealing artwork through his bad artwork.

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