Dancing on a tightrope

Freddy Nock essentially doing something insane:

First off, I’m pretty sure I just wore those Puma’s yesterday…

Second, you know my love of amazing stashes.

But most importantly this spectacle has something to do with a recent work of art I commissioned from an amazing and dear friend Matthew Whitney, a Seattle based artist.

I asked Matt what the title of this piece should be and he said “Logische Takt”  This concept (logical tact) was coined by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.  In order to learn about it with some minor depth, here is an excerpt from The Practice of Everday Life by Michel de Certeau.

Characteristically, Kant treats the relation between the art of operating (Kunst) and science (Wissenschaft), or between a technique (Technik) and theory (Theorie), in the context of an investigation that has moved from earlier versions on taste toward a critique of judgment.  He encounters art, on the road leading from taste to judgment, as the parameter of a practical knowledge exceeding knowledge and having an esthetic form.  Kant discerns in what he calls, in a stroke of genius, a “logical tact” (logische Takt).  Inscribed in the orbit of an esthetics, the art of operating is placed under the sign of the faculty of judgment, the “alogical” condition of thought.  The traditional antinomy between “operativity” and “reflection” is transcended through a point of view which, acknowledging an art at the root of thought, makes judgment a “middle term” (Mittleglied) between theory and praxis.  This art of thinking constitutes a synthetic unity of the two terms.

Kant’s examples concern precisely everyday practices: “The faculty of judgment exceeds the understanding…. The faculty of judging what clothes a chambermaid should wear.  The faculty of judging by the dignity appropriate to an edifice what ornaments will not conflict with the goal in view.”  Judgment does not bear on social conventions (the elastic equilibrium of a network of tacit contracts) alone, but more generally on the relation among a great number of elements, and it exists only in the act of concretely creating a new set by putting one more element into a convenient connection with this relation, just as one adds a touch of red or ochre to a a painting, changing it without destroying it.  The transformation of a given equilibrium into another one characterizes art.

To explain this, Kant mentions the general authority of discourse, an authority which is nevertheless never more than local and concrete:  where I come from, he writes (in meinem Gegenden: in my region, in my “homeland.”), “the ordinary man” der Gemeine Mann) says (sagt) that charlatans and magicians (Tashenspielers) depend on knowledge (you can do it if you know the trick), whereas tightrope dancers (Siltánzers) depend on an art.  Dancing on a tightrope requires that one maintain an equilibrium from one moment to the next by recreating it at every step by means of new adjustments; it requires one to maintain a balance that is never permanently acquired; constant readjustment renews the balance while giving the impression of “keeping” it.

So the work of the tightrope dancer shares space with the work of the artist.  Time never ceases, and it brings with baggage full of new ideas, new boundaries, new factors, and new relationships.  The artist (or tightrope artist) must do the nearly impossible feat of transforming the balance of the previous moment to the balance of the present moment.  The best musicians do this, especially when in an ensemble experience.  The best dancers do this.  The geniuses of every art-form do this.

I suppose the best thing to do is begin to think of living life (the art that it is) as a tightrope dancer, constantly seeking this logische Takt.  Balancing theory and praxis.  Balancing conjecture and reality.  Balancing what you think “should” be with what “is”.  Or seeing both, and taking the careful steps forward with arms out ready to transform the moment to a state of balance.

It seems to me this is how most of us move forward through life:

The Cliff and the Old Man

A chapter from a fairy tale by Eric Barnum, illuminated by Matthew Whitney.

The wind whipping off the cliff into the abyss was what finally woke her.  Her bright blue-green eyes glistened and blinked quickly against the golden rays streaming down from the sun.  She shivered as she stood.  The wind was cold and it howled a lonesome tune as it leaped off the edge of the cliff and out over a seemingly never-ending sea.  She picked up a small pebble, threw it as far as she could.  She watched it hover for but a moment before dropping out of view.  Leaning forward carefully she peered over the edge.

“That wind will grab you and carry you away child,” said an ancient voice behind her.  She leaped in surprise from the voice, nearly off the cliff’s edge, and turning, saw an old man sitting on a nearby rock.

“Have you been here the whole time…and why are you wearing pajamas?” she asked innocently.

“Yes, I have been here the whole time,” his eyes shown as he winked, “which in fact has been a very, very long time indeed.” His smile turned to a frown as if realizing something very important.  “But, to answer your second question, I like to sleep, I suppose.”  His smile returned.  “And I’ve decided that its easier to sleep with pajamas on, then pajamas off!”

“Well, that seems silly,” she replied bravely.  “You just sleep here on this cliff?  …and you can’t do very much with pajamas on all the time.  Don’t you go anywhere?”

“I’ve been everywhere, my dear child, but that was long ago, when I was very young, much like you.  But time is different now.  I am afraid a new king and queen have taken power in this land.”

“A king and queen, how grand!” she exclaimed happily.

“Oh no, my child, they are a fearful pair, bent on evil and destruction.  It was they that banished me from the land of my youth and have forced me to remain here between the cliff and the forest.”

The girl frowned.  “Evil kings and queens.  How terrible.  Why not stop sleeping and do something?  Can’t you fight them?  What can be done?”

The old man chuckled as he turned towards the cliff that descended to the great sea.  “You are so brave, my dear child, but also young.  What can be done?” he whispered.  His voice then raised like a trumpet to join the howling wind and cascaded down the expanse. “Of whom shall I speak?  What deeds could be told to bring hope to dull eyes?  What songs could be sung to quench the heart of its thirst for joy?  Gone is peace.  The wheel that moves the soul, sun, and stars is forgotten.  Lost is the song!  Lost is the song that tuned the mountains and gave rhythm to the sea.  Lost is the song that birthed beauty and guards truth.  Even worms in their earthly habitats see farther than we!  We claim a knowledge, an understanding, an enlightenment…Shadows!  Shadows and clouds, all.  Lost is the song that was sung at the foundations of the earth!”  He turned to the girl with tears in his wild, fiery eyes.  “What can be done?  The song is lost.  Is there no one who will sing?”  He slouched and grew silent.

by Matthew Whitney

Terrified by the old man’s voice and the words that he spoke, she walked up to him trembling, and held his hand in hers as she looked out to the sea.

“I will find the one who will remember the song.  There must be one who will sing this song, although I know not where they are or what the song is…

I can’t just stay here and sleep forever.  Will you come with me?  Please come with me.”

The wizened man turned.  “I cannot come with you, though I would with all my heart,” he said with a tearful eye.  “Yes, you must find the song.”

“Then I will go alone.”

The old man in the pajamas watched as the frail little girl walked towards the dark forest, away from the cliff.  A mist was gathering in the trees and as she faded into it, he called to her.  “Though you do not see me, I will be with you Carys!”

She turned quickly, surprised, and called back, “How do you know my name?”

She heard his distant voice, “I have known you from the moment of your first heartbeat…”

Then there was only dark trees, and fog.


Matthew Whitney’s amazing painting and other artwork can be found at http://www.matthewwhitney.com.  You can even see a painting of me at http://www.matthewwhitney.com/highres.html, and click on Blue in a Happy Way.  His style and intent has always spoken to me on a very deep and profound level.