#11 The Dialectical Process

The fourth song on Puscifer’s Money $hot album is called “Simultaneous”, and contains a mysterious character whose monologue concludes with the words “We will never know world peace, until three people can simultaneously look each other straight in the eye.”  At genius.com, a site that seems to have an active community of Tool and Maynard James Keenan fans, an interpretation has been posited of a mandate that mankind must collectively open its third eye if it would survive and flourish (click on the relevant lyrics at genius to see the annotations people have added).  I agree with that as an acceptable interpretation (another commentator says the phrase simply means peace is impossible.  That interpretation warrants consideration, but nonetheless reminds me of the people who will insist, until the day they die, that the entirety of the album Ænima is about butts).  I interpret the words in “Simultaneous” as a virtually explicit endorsement of dialectical logic.  One scholar tries to shed light on the dialectic as a form of logic:

What makes dialectical thinking so difficult to explain is that it can only be seen in practice. It is not a “method” or a set of principles, like Aristotle’s, which can be simply stated and then applied to whatever subject-matter one chooses.

Hegel for Beginners, by Llyod Spencer and Andrzej Krauze, Published by Icon Books

(I’m going to cite internet sources specifically because that is the only way most people will have a chance to look at them.)  And:

Reading Hegel gives one a sense that the movement of thought will coincide with a vision of harmony that awaits us at the end of the whole process. Every serious reader of Hegel can bear witness to the intoxication of such moments.

Id.  The interpretation of “Simultaneous” is bolstered by a comment Keenan made to Rolling Stone, where he comments on the state of the world generally:

I feel like any problems that are coming up nowadays can easily be navigated with logic, a sense of responsibility and coming from a position where maybe you’re wrong — “What did I do to provoke this? What can I do to make this better?”

As a young mystic I was greatly influenced by both the writings of G.W.F. Hegel and the fractal meanings of M. J. Keenan’s music, so I want to say right at the get-go that I believe very much in the value of dialectical thought.  What does this mean in practice?  Well, as the first quote above says, knowledge is a process, just as philosophers often say philosophy is more like a verb than a noun– it is something “you do”, not something “you have.”  I bring this up because I have changed my views on many thing over the course of my life, and in some cases I have only fully understood the truth of something because at one prior point I possessed an entirely opposite belief.  This is a long way of saying that I wish for you, my dear reader, to not feel insulted if I criticize or marginalize some art or music you enjoy.  I have been wrong many times in my life and will be again, all to my eventual advantage and wisdom (for example, I owe the world a post on the narco-doom scene, e.g. Electric Wizard and Uncle Acid, to make amends for my previous inability to fully revel in their brilliance).

I will summarize with a quote from a University of Chicago media scholar (forgive my inclusion of the triadic synthesis as an effort to make more overt the connection to the Puscifer quote above):

Roughly speaking, Hegel’s dialectic involves the reconciliation of ostensible paradoxes to arrive at absolute truth. The general formulation of Hegel’s dialectic is a three-step process comprising the movement from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. One begins with a static, clearly delineated concept (or thesis), then moves to its opposite (or antithesis), which represents any contradictions derived from a consideration of the rigidly defined thesis. The thesis and antithesis are yoked and resolved to form the embracing resolution, or synthesis.

 Kim O’Connor (2003).  The triadic synthesis is clinched in the song “Simultaneous” when the exchange with the mysterious character is described thusly: “Every third inquiry was met with, you know, an eloquent but unusual response, and, you know, the subsequent exchange, it kinda warranted continuing the conversation“.  I will quote O’Connor again:

Succinctly put, the dialectic “actualizes itself by alienating itself, and restores its self-unity by recognizing this alienation as nothing other than its own free expression or manifestation” (Bottomore 122). This formula is infinitely renewable; Hegel contended it would only terminate upon the world’s end. Each time synthesis is achieved it “generate[s] new internal contradictions, and then a further resolution” (Macey 96). It is also teleological because “each later stage of dialectic contains all the earlier stages, as it were in solution; none of them is wholly superceded, but is given its proper place as a moment in the whole” (Russell 731). The infinite character of the dialectic reflects Hegel’s notion of holistic truth and his optimistic belief in progress.

Dialectic permeated Hegel’s philosophy, but his dialectical model of subjectivity as the interpenetration between subject and object probably holds the most relevance for us today. In The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel described subjectivity as “a being-for-self which is for itself only through another” (115). In other words, I can never define myself purely in relation to myself; it is through my interaction with the external world that I become aware of my self-consciousness. The subject only exists through its relationship with others: “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged” (111).

Id. (cites in original text).  Relevant to this music blog is a subsequent paragraph in which O’Connor draws the dialectic into relation with media studies:

Generally speaking, dialectic can be a useful way to conceptualize subject/object relationships in any number of contexts, particularly artistic contexts. Dialectic allows us to break down the bifurcated model of spectator/artwork so that, for example, it becomes possible for both the reader and writer to create meaning in a poem, and for an abstract painting to reveal something intrinsic to both artwork and beholder.

Id.  A long time ago raver kids realized that a “concert” or party was more fun if the DJ reacted to the crowd instead of the crowd simply reacting to the DJ.  And we have all heard the argument that lyrical interpretation is best handled by the individual listener, not just the artist.

This subject/object dichotomy is not just a handy way to explain and ground the collective creation of meaning, but for some us, a virtual key to explaining how the universe exists in the first place.  But you do not need to follow me all the way down that rabbit hole.  In order to appreciate my subsequent posts, I only ask you to concentrate on how myth and meaning is created “socially”, and specifically, how it pertains to music (even if you are a diehard anti-social iconoclast, you still need to acknowledge that your thoughts are usually subject to grammar and syntax, and language is “social” even if you are sitting alone in a closet; finally, music is a “language”).


I don’t care whether you are dead set on believing the world is inert matter, or whether you think the Earth is suspended on the back of a giant tortoise who glides over a sea of phlogiston.  Indeed, that is the strength of the dialectical method– it is the enemy of crude dogmatism.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s