Is there such a thing as unadulterated experience? Maybe, if you’re looking at stars in the middle of a field in Montana, but even then how is your experience impacted by the myriad societal alarms going off in your head? Is it possible to detach? Or is that even the right question?
Notions of detachment still imply a thing detached from, so a detachment is only a temporary determent, not change.
To float away from something — to even hold it at arm’s length — does not eviscerate its presence, it merely makes it dimmer for a time.
The right idea is not one of separation, because separation will always have the stain of the missing thing; it is more so one of purity within perception.
Clarifying the mind by a passage through or recognition within, instead of fleeting extrinsic departure, is the solution to denuding experience.
In today’s society, experience is moderated, arbitrated by technology and a constantly amorphous society that molds its figures in the likeness of a character from a movie.
I say “movie” because life is becoming more and more of a movie, more and more an act of theater, simply because of the inundation of our recording capabilities.
Virtual reality should not be our main worry; instead, it is our deeply mediated reality that poses a threat to our experiential freedom.
It is arguable that nearly 100 percent of our lives consist of acts of theater.
Every time you take a bite of food, sit at your desk to do homework, or passively watch television, there’s always a looming presence of doing-things-to-be-seen.
People have always acted for others audience — that is not new, but now that we know others will see what we do, we act as if they already are.
In a sense, the director is always filming, and therefore our experience is mediated through public desire and private internalization, a schema that makes every experience bound up by its own fiction.
If we look at such phenomena, the regulation and subliminal formulation of both society’s collective experience, as well as our own personal ones, there is a scary, totalitarian hue to it.
But the impetus towards freedom does not arise from political discomfort, it must arise from an internal chafe towards what has organically become the new normal.
And it is precisely because the transformation has seemed organic that makes it difficult to shake; what is more natural-seeming than experience, than the soul’s soaking in the world around it through what appear to be genuine eyes?
There is, I think, a way to conceptualize this through how Minimalist artist Tony Smith described experiencing “non-art” in its purity and limitlessness.
Smith postulated a conflation of art and life, that life itself can be art, or that the two may be one in forming an unmodified experience.
Smith uses the example of driving on the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike.
He claims, “the experience on the road was something mapped out but not socially recognized … There is no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it.”
Smith, although somewhat out of context here, taps into something relatable. The oceanic amounts of recording devices we have make it as if we live in Foucault’s panopticon, except absence of watching has doubled and permeated into a distinct feeling of actual watching.
We are watched, filmed, glittered and made up by a language of experience projection, pieced together by a web of “seen” but not “experienced” experience. It governs our actions as much as any Freudian hang-up does, because in a way being the star of a 24 hour film engenders its own Pavlovian reactions, most of them not purely human, but artificially conditioned.
Experience, now, is constructed, and does not engulf one, but places one on a stage with props, sets and, cruelly, other actors.
We oil experience with the fallacies of what we have seen acted before. The question now is: who will break the fourth wall?