Société Imaginaire

by Batuz

World history is not flat. The most important events stand out like mountain tops in nature. Everyone alive today must sense that we have reached one of those peaks which are unique in the history of mankind. It is a moment of euphoria, joy and optimism. It is remarkable but true that it takes a great catastrophe, something extraordinary, before human beings can feel solidarity with each other. It is also typical of such moments that for a short time all are in complete agreement with each other on everything. Irreconcilable enemies suddenly embrace as if nothing had happened. Where only shortly before hundreds of millions suffered, were tortured and killed, mutual understanding blossoms. All the news contradicts long decades of hard realities. It seems more like a beautiful dream, because reality, as we know from experience, is something quite different! Or was it always so in the past and will it now turn into something else? Does the imagined turn into the real and the past into a nightmare? Why not? Let us at least think it so.

Perhaps in the world at large this is not possible yet, but in the Société Imaginaire we have already achieved it!

This society has no borders. Some of its neighbors live thousands of miles apart, yet they are spiritually closer to each other than to their next-door neighbor in a small town. Because they know that only in the imagination can one live in full freedom and peace with one another. It’s as simple as that.

Besides, as artists we spend most of our time in the realm of the imagination, which happens to be the artist’s natural habitat. Still the most important question in the future may well be, how and in which way information reaches the artist and how this will be reflected in the content and form of his work.

Today’s man and, even more, the contemporary artist, no longer lives in “one” society or culture as did the ancient Greeks or the Mayas – according to the theory laid out by Toynbee in Challenge and Response. The environment of modern man resembles not so much a polis, an Athens of Ur, but rather a motel room with cable TV. The artist lives only physically in his society, but spiritually nourishes himself from and “lives” in a plethora of other cultures, many of which he may not even be aware.

This kind of dual existence is not only a problem facing modern man, it is also symptomatic of a far more complex form of “challenge,” another form of incitation – something brand new to which we must formulate our response. The way in which we respond to these questions, the solutions and approaches we find, these are without doubt some of our most important tasks in the present time. The ways and forms, and, above all, the quantity of information have not only changed communication, but have turned it into something else. The ever-growing perfection achieved by the communications systems has not brought people closer together. On the contrary, it seems that “over-communication,” instead of improving direct communication, obstructs it. In this respect, our times differ from all other cultures.

History had been a chain of influences and interrelations between and among different cultures, which bore its fruits through cross-fertilization. There was a time for gestation, adoption, adjustment and utilization of the new. Man today is confronted with hundreds of “worlds” simultaneously of which he knows hardly any, but about which he is constantly “informed” in detail by the press and TV.

Most of this information deals with the most trivial happenings in one of the corners of the world and then provides a minute description of them. Through that kind of information we will become thoroughly knowledgeable about a single, isolated screw, without the slightest notion as to what machine it pertains and where it is located in the world. Indeed, today’s man cannot defend himself against this sort of “information” because he sees what he is shown, not what he wants to see.

The sheer mass (quantity) and the processing (quality) of information presents all fields of human endeavor with similar problems! Without a doubt, we face a new situation no longer comprehensible with our old methods of conceptualization, i.e. ways of thinking which are linguistically limited, obsolete, and in any case inappropriate. If we want to solve this problem, we must approach it with a method adapted to a new way of thinking, a completely new approach must be created, which will bring forth its own language, which in turn will serve as a means of direct communication between those who have learned it from scratch. As it is with the understanding of abstract art, we must forget every comparison and similarity with figurative art and nature, but leave ourselves open to let the new reveal itself to us in its genuine and true way. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that we should not only start this analysis in full awareness of the subject’s distinct nature, in a completely different way from all earlier ones, but also must seek words, schemas and terminologies which would enable us to present, describe and understand the new situation. Here I am reminded of the innovators of language in the 18th and 19th centuries, which, one may say, created a new language through which, and only through which, the new concepts in all fields of intellectual activity could be formulated and expressed.

Only the artist is in a position to give us a new image, and he does so by reducing this oversupply of possibilities to what is essential, in order to be able to use it and adapt it in all other fields of human endeavor.

The new man, who will be able to cope with hundreds of worlds simultaneously must be universal; such a rethinking and metamorphosis can happen only in the imagination. And that brings us to our purported subject, to the experiment:Société Imaginaire.

As noted earlier, the artist or writer does not live in the everyday, not in the immediacy of events, but in the abstraction and in the imagination of those events. To achieve this he has to distance himself from them.

The extraordinary and euphoric condition which we experience these days, will be of short duration. Then everyday life takes over again, the type of life which separates men from each other through their business and personal interests. We must seek to prolong these wonderful moments of openness and sincerity. And it is only the artist who is in a position to take the first steps, precisely because he never lives in the everyday: for him every day is extraordinary. We must find a new form of communication, a kind of dialogue to enable man to raise himself above the “immediate,” the petty personal interests and local problems. To be able to enter a dialogue which will lead to a deeper knowledge of each others’ destiny and which will bring us closer far above all our statistical knowledge of other cultures and people, each of the partners in this project called “Correspondence” can practically identify himself with the other’s situation and problems – and live them. Only then will we have achieved genuine knowledge.

In this fashion each other’s work will move into a completely new light, since then we can appropriate it, integrate it into our culture, enter it into our bloodstream, so that not only will it affect us rationally, but also emotionally and in this way not only give us information but profound understanding.

Kant has taught us that absolute knowledge of things is denied to man. It is only possible for him to know things through his own unique method of perception. But perhaps this very limitation offers him a chance to apply the Kantian approach with some modifications in his new situation. As Wittgenstein said, it is not good to express new ideas in an old and unsuitable language. Kant’s three dimensional space has become an electro-magnetic energy field, with thousands of events, all characterized by their simultaneity. When man must simultaneously live in many worlds, he must orient his ways of thought accordingly.

Only someone who is primarily universal and then later, local can comprehend this new situation and live at one and the same time, i.e. simultaneously, in many cultures, like an electron, which can appear simultaneously in several places.

Man’s own limitations, his methods of apperception, can contribute to his salvation in mastering this new challenge because his powers of perception are capable of modification. Octavio Paz has expressed this similar idea poetically and clearly: “The understanding of others is a contradictory ideal: it asks that we change without changing, that we be other without ceasing to be ourselves.”*

Surely everyone recognizes today that man must alter and adapt his means of perception in order to be able to meet the new challenge. When we say man does not live in one culture only but in many, he cannot do it with his old methods of apperception.

As the abstract in art becomes comprehensible for us only when we surrender our figurative images, so we must renounce our provincial selves if we want to understand today’s world, or worlds, and feel at home in them. Then our conception of “home” must of course also be interpreted differently: my home is Latin America, I go home to Europe, but I am at home in North America. Despite all that, I am and shall always remain Hungarian.

It will take time to reach this new stage, but here is no other choice. Because it requires a completely new way of thinking, different from any that preceded it, it will cost enormous effort and will provoke reactions, among which the most dangerous is the recurrence of nationalism, which in its very nature conflicts with peaceful coexistence. But it proves our point: the more open, broader and accessible “information” becomes, people, instead of becoming more universal, flee into their own little worlds and become even more provincial, perhaps out of fear of precisely this nakedness and openness, because they cannot cope with the new which is the totality of all worlds. But there is no doubt that the successful response to the new challenges require a new man who is first universal and only then “local.” TheSociété Imaginaire, the “Correspondence” project are born out of this ideal understanding. Together, we want to explore this new world.

* Octavio Paz: Convergences: Essays on Art and Literature. New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. 1987, pp. 28-29.

About the Author

Yemeni activist, politician member of the initiative for new Yemen in Berlin,