The Mystic and The Modernist are in an arm wrestle.
They have been since the start of the 20th century.
Each one believes that the other is so fatally flawed that the word ‘brainwashed’ comes up more than once – the simplest way they explain who or what they are is by defining their credo as the negative of the other.
The Mystic declares, “I am everything The Modernist is not.”
And the Modernist replies, somewhat petulantly, “I am nothing of what The Mystic is.”
The Mystic likes to claim that one of the major flaws in modern architecture (modern = all white, streamlined, cool and clean), is that there is nowhere for ghosts to hide. The Modernist is proud of this achievement, even though s/he knows that the stark plain white wall was, for most of the time in the 1920s, hiding the ghost of an old-fashioned brick wall inside its cosmetic plaster face paint.
The Mystic prefers Sarah Winchester’s Mystery House, the one that’s forever unfinished, a warped warren of rooms, restlessly expanding due to a visitation by the accursed spirits of the victims who were killed by Winchester firearms.
The Modernist stages theatrical parties where guests promenade up and down long, shallow ramps, and pout by the parapet on the roof terrace, charmed by a giraffe nonchalantly leaning over them. Chewing. These guests are middle class or bourgeois, well-heeled, pretentious, socially anxious, and they fear being irrelevant.
On and on the bickering goes between our two adversaries, blinded by a fervor. What, dear reader, is this fervor?
Well, its secret energy, its giddy entanglement, is to be found in the colour theories of the Soviet Vkhutemas School. In The Red Book of Carl Jung.
In Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky’s log cabin on the outskirts of Kaluga. In many of Albert Einstein’s utterances, including, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” It’s in André Breton’s initial announcements on Surrealism: “The marvellous is always beautiful. Anything marvellous is beautiful, in fact only the marvellous is beautiful.” Breton, a Mystic, if there ever was one, lampooned the architect Le Corbusier, a Modernist if there ever seemed to be one. And then later in life, Le Corbusier’s cosmos replaced the early white walls and shallow ramps and chrome bannisters with something more brutal, primary, animal.
The writhings of prostitutes and the cult of the bull.
Did Corbusier really have the hide of his beloved dog turned into a prophylactic? Only his wife Yvonne would know.
Roger Caillois was on Breton’s side until 1934. He tells the Pope of Surrealism: “I want the irrational to be continuously overdetermined, like the structure of coral; it must combine into one single system everything that until now has been systematically excluded by a mode of reason that is still incomplete.”
Breton would expel many of the Surrealist Mystics for not being Mystical enough.
Then there’s Stanislaw Lem, Rothko’s Kabbalistic lozenges, Barnett Newman’s zips, Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis. Who knew as much about the history of religion as PKD? David Lynch’s cameos of film fire, angels and disappearances. Even The Athiest, who may not consider herself a Modernist per se, does not perceive how her fervor against the mysticism of religion is the newest kind of spiritual mystique.
The Modernist and The Mystic condemned to this arm wrestle by their own stubbornness, a macho dance, forged from compulsive free will but determined and fatalistic, fawning and flawed. Mostly very, very flawed.
God, it is said, loves everyone. Including sore losers.
Commissioned by Near East, Issue 2, “MYSTICISM.”