Attila Kotányi


Why have others been unable to find the right path, unlike us, the ones that resonate?


Dear resonators, let me speak now only of ourselves, the resonators that are hit. I will speak some other time of those who resonate when they are caressed or the ones who are touched in some other way and maybe do not resonate at all.

The logo figure of my lucky guide could perhaps be the French poet Henry Michaux, who, when asked what was the thing that he needed a great deal of energy for in his life said „to those tiny but constant changes of directions”.

There is no alarm signal, no echo, no feedback without distance, without a gap. Like the Silezian shoemaker, Jakob Böhme said: there is no right answer without an abyss. Then, there is a motto that turns into an order in effect: "Let us create distances." These words are not by the shoemaker but by Nietzsche, whose thought is relevant to our subject also as he considered that the instrument of philosophy is the hammer. Resonators raise their heads when they hear things like “Let us set the distances.” The French for this is "Prenez vos distance", which was also what Nietzsche thought and translated into German in this sense. I was also considering for a while whether my message would be easier to understand if I formulated it more briefly, more concisely in my opening address. All that I want to say in comment or remark to the subject of our feedback symposium can readily be summed up in the above sentence "Prenez vos distance!"

This motto, this mot d'ordre holds for everything that surrounds us. And it even prevents us from indulging in exaggerated solidarity, fraternal love and love of ourselves. A large number of differences emerge inevitably between us and anything that is present, anything that is there at the moment. This separation, distancing creates an abyss, which is then bridged by feedback.

I suppose that Nietzsche’s adherence to the ecstatic Dyonisos cult - as has recently been remarked by Werner Ross - can be related to the abyss whose sides are connected by the echo-bridge. Echo-resonance indicates that we are tuned. There-being means being tuned.

Nietzsche himself sometimes labelled his own standpoint as a nightmare. Could he have considered that, considering from the perspective of "Human, all too Human" Dyonisian passion, cultic community, pathos and pathology are simply madness?

At the turn of the 20th century almost all artists, even the most mild-tempered, felt Nietzsche’s ideas of the Dyonisian as a secret reference to them. At the beginning of the 20th century abstraction reappears in art, similarly to the centuries when dithyrambic feasts, death for the world, abyss and its feedback dominated life. It could never fill this abyss, only dominate it by being tuned. This distancing was not directed against the joy or grieves of the world but against getting intoxicated with the world, against the world of delusion, which deceives you by creating the illusion of magnificence.

The distance of abstraction is directed against any possible type of determination, point, colour, force and virtue.

But what sense does it make to be on the defensive against the entire world, of which I am also a part? It is not that I want to take back anything in the name of mutual politeness. Hell, no! It is only that, in my opinion, distance has to be created between our properly tuned resonating selves and all the things that have become alienated from those selves.

Like Mircea Eliade and other ethnologists, I have admired for a long time the magic solidarity and closeness in traditional communities. If it does not come from some kind of political potion, the magic power comes from the extraordinary capacity of distancing, from the ability to separate themselves from trouble and hope, the whole world. It is really about alienation - without Hegel and Marx. Considering from the point of view of the effect, it does not matter at all whether alienation, distancing takes place in trance, at night while one is asleep or in an orgy.

Nobody has ever regained his or her sovereignty without rejecting the influence of the world on him or her, including spiritual influences.

These thousands of years have opened an abyss, which is manifest also in ecstatic feasts. Its participants step out of the world. They "step away". Not necessarily because of the ecstasy of the loss of everyday consciousness. Moses’ face was beaming with joy when he returned from Mount Sinai. The shoemaker also represented this type of Christosophy.

The community of those who "step away" during a feast returns to an ancient state of mind. They reach this state of illuminating return their original essence and nature through dance, songs and masks.

Likewise, cultic communities are sustained by the messages they receive in this way. To bring just one example: the legendary tribe of the Toltecs, as Castaneda’s Don Juan, the shaman relates, have a god, the White Eagle, which emits un-modulated rays all around itself. The White Eagle lives on constant information- feedback. This stands for the whole tribe: it is through remembering during their feast rites that they experience who they really are. They are sustained by that, they are re-born from that.

I do not intend to refer you, the resonators who have gathered here, back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and from there to pre-historic times. Unfortunately, some witch-doctors had a propensity for doing so a hundred years ago.

However, I think that this phenomenon does not originate from the programme. Just consider Zen Buddhists. If someone wants to avoid what Hakuin calls “Great Death,” which has just been described above in terms of a cultic community, it is considered by Zen Buddhists the most deficient type of economising. They consider that what is saved by economising here leads to a significant deficit of looking- around. This deficit of discovery leads, in its turn, to bankruptcy - considered from the point of view of Zen enlightenment.

Maybe the reason why Zen Buddhists are surrounded by a crowd of respectable resonators is that it never even crosses their minds to let “Great Death,” the burial of the world be lost. Because - oh, my God! - what would people say?

I am afraid that within a few years we will hear from the Japanese and Chinese that once there was a man, a certain Johannes Cassian. Some 1700 years ago, Cassian reported of hermits living in the deserts of Egypt, who tell us very happily to live nowhere else than in the desert. Otherwise, the idea of evading Great Death can easily cross one’s mind.

After Honda and Suzuki cars I expect that south-east Asians will put Jakob Böhme’s commentaries on the market. A six-hundred-page volume of Böhme’s commentaries of the Bible was published in Japanese a few years ago. They explore, search and will then quote: "Arsenios, avoid people and you will be saved."

Most of us probably consider it an unrealistic phenomenon or neurotic behaviour for people to avoid people in a desert where the grains of sand are people. But is it really unrealistic? Is it necessarily?

In Hebrew there are two words for desert: shemama and midbar. Shemama means hopelessness, frustration, barrenness and annihilation. The world of grains of sand, the world of sandstorms. Midbar is related to dawar, that is, to speech, linguistic utterance. This desert that listens, consists of the grains of sand of silence.

Samuel Trigano, the commentator considers that the place where the typical Jewish learning process takes place is the frustrating desert. Its essence is the effort to gain life force by crossing the desert. This is how they attain the sense of the desert implied in midbar. This desert is dotted with oases and gardens.

Fortunately, this monastery has strong walls. Because what I am speaking of here is the shemama, despite the fact that its seems that contemporary man has to delete frustration from the programme.

In every developed religious culture the spiritual source of meditation is the desert, the mental state of enduring the wasteland, silence and calmness. It is immersion in ourselves.

In ancient Israel, this state is reached during the Sabbath, the holiday of joy, which is separated from all the other days of the week, the shemama, the times of frustration. The peace of the Sabbath comes not simply from the consensus in the religious community. It is Shalom: a kind of peace that descends from heaven, across the feedback-bridge of the integrated conjunction of the Totally Other and creation. The Sabbath is by definition a happy holyday. As a vicar in Worms told his congregation three-hundred years ago: In the Sabbath, in this state of eternity in time, this Today, religious Jews are freed from trouble, duties and tasks to attend already in their lifetime. This perspective is not some kind of desire but the community’s archetypal memory of its original nature.

Now, on this day, when Iahve rested after the six days of creation, the praying community of ten persons have to forget about the world and themselves. This kind of self-forgetting brings ecstatic relief. This day is separated from time and is hallowed by a delicate but unbreakable dividing line: the havdala. The Now of the holyday hypes you up like James Dean in Giant. Ecstasy, joy, delight - this is what the Sabbath means.

Here, in this state of illumination, as Heidegger says, here, on the ground of the Sabbath stands Jacob’s ladder. Descending from heaven and ascending there one falls into ecstasy. It was thanks to this ladder that resonators hit Biblically reached such an elevated tone.

A few years ago, a remark by Harvey Cox gave me the idea that the Sabbath means that the individual is dead to the world, to society, which keeps us in custody by trying, at all costs, to determine who we are. However, this may lead to aversion. Meanwhile, if in ancient Israel, the entire community in the Synagogue follows the calling of Moses and steps away from the tedious daily routine, then the neighbour will not spoil the game.

If you consider what an immense experience of distance-keeping has been accumulated over the centuries in Judaism, you will understand what has led me to look for the origin of European meditation in the Sabbath. The path leading back to creation has been opened. The path, which is, at the same time, a path leading away from the world of alienated everyday phenomena. [Harvey Cox was led to the recognition of the Sabbath also via a detour to Zen Buddhism.]

The meditative way is known by the name art. It is the sounds we, the resonators emit. Of course, only when we are hit.

In religious times the depth-distance is open between heaven and Earth. Throwing ourselves in it is, it seems, like children’s games, filled with all the worries, anxieties and dreams. It is not only me who sees it this way. The Evangelists had the same ideas.

This is the feedback little children anticipate with a serious expression on their face. This information is their source of orientation while they are playing. Children do not know what they have to do. They stumble about, search around, and as they are fiddling with things they adapt to even the tiniest feedback, to any presque rien.

And having said that, we have come back to our original point. What is so important for us here is that the inspired art of life of a little child who has no self-awareness does not require a deep abyss between him and the world, the abyss that later becomes the environment determining his individual existence. The abyss is there, it is present. A little child is not familiar even with his most immediate environment. He stores only minute records of his own feedback-exploration. At the same time, children are inspired, ‘illuminated’ in their separation by the incessant chains of feedback that stream forth or back from the All-Embracing, as Jaspers would put it. Using the terminology of Zen: here there is no to and from. [Bernoulli takes a similar stance: entropy makes no sense when all of creation is considered in its entirety.]

There is no need to prove that children are illuminated by an inner light. It is enough to see their faces, the way they move effortlessly, or the meditative gaze they look at us with. A child is an ideal person to play blind-man’s buff. He knows almost nothing, he searches, considers, makes guesses and discoveries.

How many times did Nietzsche warn the men of knowledge: look around, consider, do not be so desperate to devour knowledge, do not want to become ignorant, you poor people!

The logic of the Sabbath led me to the logic of blind-man’s buff. I even took extra classes to learn how blindness becomes one’s second nature: an alcoholic woman who moved in just where I did thirty-three years ago helped me in that, along with the Anonymous Alcoholics. Over this years of ordeal I have realised that in order to be able to live near addicts, near people who live without a will of their own, one needs distance. And in order to live in such a tie for a long time, one needs a strict, reflective strategic view of keeping distance, which can be observed in the philosophy of Bateson, Watzlawick and the classics of Zen.

A drug addict never knows what he will do on a day. This makes him an ideal coach for the omniscient wise man. A drug addict can become an oracle for the wise man about all the things the wise man cannot know that day. Cusanus is resurrected, the treasury of learned ignorance opens up. At the end of my address I will express my gratitude for being initiated to the existence of the blind-man’s buff player and rhyzomic thinking I will tell you a Zen Buddhist story.

Little children live more in the Sabbath than outside it. It is an appropriate saying that children walk above the ground. It is true - and nevertheless, children are not mad. They still know how, through what peace of the soul this state of mind can be attained. It is not accidental that in Christosophic times they served as examples illustrating the fact that the Realm of Heaven is inhabited by a group of humans that live among us. It was in the times of Christianity that the individual, the person relatively independent of the community, the civil person appeared. The child serves as a model for a theory only in our Biblical tradition. In Zen the ideal man appears in this position, the unborn man, as in the thought of master Blankei.

I consider that our accumulated deficit of feedback is to be blamed for human misfortune. Hopefully, I am right. Brother Watzlawick raises no objections. I can prove it with a test: the model or example of the child and the blind-man’s buff player.

If a resonator shuts himself up after being hit properly he is similar to a blind-man’s buff player. I see only one way for the artist to prove himself: he has to find what he has to show. And for this he has to search. The chief Sophiological figure in whom the idea of man in search appears is the pilot. He is the master of finding the path, the model type for this activity. He stands in the beak of the boat and casts staccato gazes at the water. When he suspects something dangerous under the surface of the water, he pushes the boat away from it with his long pole. This is his cybernetics. His art of navigation.

Thanks to a reference to Moldering, made by a resonator who is present here now, I became familiar with Duchamp’s main goals. Duchamp found it revolting that firmly based academic sciences intended to take the leading role. He found it stupid that cross-words wanted to compete with tidings of joy, researchers with the constant tomographic feedback-discoveries of artists. Playing blind-man’s buff, dada has been carrying a drum on its back ever since, a drum that I have just hit.

A religious community needs no distance from the “Totally Other”. This distance is there, except during the Sabbath. On this day, the birthday of the world, the family sits at the table with Elohim, the creator of the world. Man sits there without worrying about what life will be like in the future or about the future of society.

The artist who was born outside a living cultic community is separated from everything that is there by a wide abyss created by a blindness he adopted through learning, and ignorance he adopted through learning. The distance separating Van Gogh from his chair and the sunflowers. "One has to fall into ecstasy in order to find the yellow shade of my sunflowers,” he wrote to Theo.

Still, the artist has to become illuminated by the stream of feedback emanation. Otherwise, how could he elaborate on plastic text? What feedback would help him bring his work to perfection?

The artist cybernetist directs his fiddling depending on how feverish his ecstasy is.

Theoretically, we san speak of a whirlpool of subjectivity. The blind-man’s buff player, the Totally Other and language that structures everything constitute a divided self, as Lacan would say.

The whirlpool I have in mind here fits perfectly the times to come, times that will be full of turbulences.

The pilot, the Cybernetes can also be identified in one of Plato’s dialogues and in the theoretical tractates where Christ is called Cybernetes. I came to possess this lexical knowledge thirty years ago, when I studied cybernetics. And I am still amazed. I thought that when Norbert Wiener used the term "cybernetics " for his research in mathematical probability, it was no more than his pure invention.

The blind-man’s buff player has some computer-bound versions as well. They are the masters of the chess table and the combat fields. If an army and its leader today go to a battle without the support of AWACS aircraft, this significant feedback deficit costs them their victory. It is the secret path for the warlord to disaster.

A news report from the days of the war against Iraq can stand here as an illustration for today’s combat field. It is like a feedback seed-plot. The journalists are crowding to meet the pilot of a fighter plane armed with missiles. The pilot gets out of the plane with a helmet on his head. He is already standing on the ground. The moment he turns his head toward the journalists, the missiles on the plane turn toward them too. Since he was still wearing his helmet, wherever he turned his head, the weapons on the plane followed his movements immediately. The automatics of the weapons were targeted against whatever he turned his head toward.

As a counterexample to this dumb blind-man’s buff player, let me remind you of the example of Simon bar Kochba, the Jewish war-lord, who can be honoured as the father of the game of blind-man’s buff where discovery and understanding are achieved through intelligent guessing. He was able to understand his messenger when he returned from the Romans with his tongue cut out.

Let me say a few words now about how mathematicians learn to guess. Mathematicians from Pascal to Kolmogoroff and Norbert Wienerig. Gero von Randow wrote quite convincingly about this kind of searching in his book entitled "Das Ziegenproblem".

Rationality and systematic thinking can make one blind. This blindness does not come from being blindfolded but from one’s sight, clarity of vision being disturbed. It is Georg Haman who has to forgive my mistake in the first place.

It is not only mathematicians who come to doubt the certainty, the stability of the system and systematic thought, which always relies on the previous step, grounded firmly, be it a numerical system, algebra, an algorhythm or an axiom. Gödel can stand witness to it. Later on, the whole of nature came to behave insanely, or rather, as a blind-man’s buff player. I still owe you an account of how Nature was relieved of the oppression of earlier laws, of any type of determinism. " Determinism is a myth" Prigogine declares. Through feedback to itself, decent and good mannered Nature turned into a whirling, mostly unpredictable and anti-autoritarian, self-ruled system. Hoping to be able to grasp things or form an overall view of the world, man used to remember that once upon a time, life and universe in general, had a beginning. However, I consider that since the question concering the origin of the universe, and the research of this problem have come to dominate thinking, there is no grasping, no overview of any kind like there used to be once, in Maxwellian times. And it is admitted openly in our days.

During the process of chaotic self-organisation, nature has defined great genetic distances. Maybe nature, just like artists, followed Nietzche’s well-intentioned advice?

I have, of course, made other mistakes in my speech too. A large number of mistakes, in fact. Only to enumerate them would last too long for you to tolerate or forgive me.

As we know, the devil is evil

Once upon a time, some 200 years ago, a man who lived not far from here, in a big house, went to the market, where he saw a devil in a cage. The devil had a long tail, yellow hair over its body, and two large and strong foreteeth. It was about the size of a large dog. It was sitting peacefully in its bamboo cage and was gnawing away on a bone. A merchant was standing by the cage. The man asked him whether the devil was for sale.
”Of course,” the merchant said, “why on earth would I be here otherwise.” It’s the best devil you can get. It is strong, hardworking and does everything he is ordered to. It is a good carpenter, an excellent gardener, it can cook, stitch clothes, chop wood, it can even read you out things. What it cannot do it can learn. And it is not expensive at all. You can get is for as little as 50,000 yens.
The man did not bargain, he paid the total amount immediately because he wanted to take the devil home as soon as possible.
”Hold on for a second,” the merchant said. “You did not try to bargain so let me tell you something else about it too. You see, it is a devil, and as we know, the devil is evil.”
” But you said it is an excellent devil,” the man said angrily.
“Yes, of course. It is true. It is a great devil yet, it is evil. It will always remain a devil. You can find a great deal of pleasure in it but only on one condition: you always have to keep it busy. You have to tell it when to do what precisely every day like this: You will chop wood from this time to that, then you will cook, then, when you have eaten your meal you can take half an hour to rest, but you really have to take some rest lying down on a bed or a couch, then you will dig the garden and so on… If it is left without work, if it is not kept busy, it becomes dangerous.
”Alright,” the man said and took the devil home.
Then everything happened in the most perfect order. The man summoned the devil every morning. The devil kneeled down before him and the man told it what it had to do that day. The devil then got down to work and worked very hard all day. When it was not working, it took some rest or played games but it always did exactly as it was ordered.
A few months later the man ran across an old friend in the city. He was so happy to see his old friend that he forgot about everything else. They went to an inn and drank one pint after another. Then they had dinner, drank more and eventually, they ended up in a brothel. The ladies entertained them duly and our man woke up in a strange tiny room the following morning. At first he did not know where he was, but then he began to recollect vaguely what had happened the day before. And then he realized that he had forgotten all about the devil. His friend had already left by then. The man paid the ladies, whom now he found quite different from what he had found them like the previous night. Then he hurried home. When he entered his yard he could smell immediately that something was burning. Smoke rose from the kitchen. He tore into the house and he saw the devil sitting on the wooden floor of the kitchen, kindling the fire, roasting his neighbour’s child on spit.

Translated by Zsolt Kozma

31. December 2003.