Aesthetic Education of Us Posthumans

“So long as we consider these two practices of translation and purification separately, we are truly modern—that is, we willingly subscribe to the critical project, even though that project is developed only through the proliferation of hybrids down below. As soon as we direct our attention simultaneously to the work of purification and the work of hybridization, we immediately stop being wholly modern, and our future begins to change. At the same time we stop having been modern, because we become retrospectively aware that the two sets of practices have always already been at work in the historical period that is ending. Our past begins to change. Finally, if we have never been modern – at least in the way criticism tells the story – the tortuous relations that we have maintained with the other nature-cultures would also be transformed. Relativism, domination, imperialism, false consciousness, syncretism – all the problems that anthropologists summarize under the loose expression of ‘Great Divide’ – would be explained differently, thereby modifying comparative anthropology.” (Latour 1993, 11-12)

In Friedrich Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetical Education of Man (1795) he attempts to refute Immanuel Kant’s axiomatic assertion that morality is only possible by negating man’s negative sensuous impulses. Schiller argued that Kant’s negation disregards “Man’s” creative capacity for love and Reason and contributes ideological support for dictatorships. Aesthetic education not negation, Schiller argued, is the practice of transforming Man’s infantile selfishness to Truth and Beauty. Reason is possible by education. But bootstrapping humanist pedagogy and aesthetic education obscured central questions about the relationships between aesthetics, Reason and learning. It is not enough to understand Anthropocene, for instance, because Reason’s contribution cannot be ruled out.

Gregory Bateson argued powerfully that Reason as the expression of Conscious Purpose may very well be the engine of environmental destruction. Building his argument on experience of the Ames studies in perception, Bateson theorized that due to human’s constant confusion between map and territory, well-intended conscious purpose will always have unexpected and often negative consequences. The conscious purpose of the actor is distorted at two levels: a) because the actor does not have adequate understanding of the complex situation and; b) because the actor does not have adequate understanding of himself. In both situations the actor mistakes the map of the environment and the map of himself with its territories. This does not necessarily lead to nihilism, because he argued, spiritual systems long ago accounted for this lack of understanding and produced practices of environmental aesthetic education practiced as experiences of the sacred.

In my film Pimachihowan: Living with the Land I work with Dr. David Lertzman (University of Calgary) and Cree Elder Conroy Sewepagaham to develop an ecologically embedded language for the oil and gas industry as they engage in their duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples in Northern Alberta, Canada. In the making of the film I was introduced to a Cree aesthetic education that transformed my filmmaking and opened new kinds of relations. During Pimachihowan I learned that connection is not enough, that conjunction is what is necessary for biologically systems. The Italian philsopher Franco “Bifo” Berardi suggested in AND: Phenomenology and the End a difference between CONNECTION and CONJUNCTION. Building on this difference I want to suggest aesthetic appreciation is connection with place,  while Sacredness is conjunction. In an upcoming journal article I will explore Bateson’s sacred-as-aesthetic-education learned in the making of my film Pimachihowan and how we use the film for posthumanist aesthetic education.

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