ODing on Kultur
A friend asks me if I’ve OD’d on culture yet. Rather than give one answer, I’ll give a couple. The truth of the answer will vacillate between the possible responses in an unpredictable manner, inhabiting a quantum field of probability that collapses only into one definite choice when you do something as uncouth as observe:
1. No. I don’t think I can. I’m a little done with museums at the moment, but I want more world and more time. I want to stuff my eyes full of wonder, I don’t want to ever stop, I want to do as much as I can with what time I’m given. No, I haven’t OD’d on culture, and I feel sorry for the person that can.
2. No. But it happened to a friend of mine after the Modern Art Museum in Vienna. It happened like this:
“How is he?” I asked. Sergei just shook his head. Gary had that wild-eyed look, the psychotic grin that only comes from thinking that you’ve seen beyond the veil, toothy and lop-sided. The sort of grin that says you’re ready to try out some new, stupid ideas that were already stale fifty years ago.
“Not good. He’s OD’d on German conceptual art!”
“Goddamnit! Quick! We need 20 hours of Loony Toons, stat! Get me a beer, something Canadian and unpretentious. And for god’s sake someone give him some gum to chew.”
Sergei faithfully produced a stick of Juicy Fruit while Sally ran for the beer and the DVD. Gary continue to gape as I forced the gum into his mouth. “Why don’t I have a monocle?” He asked. “Everyone used to have a monocle…I’ve seen the most amazing things. I’ve smelled colors. Tasted sounds.”
“Sure you have, asshole,” I pushed his jaws together, grinding the gum between them. “Now *chew*, goddamn you.”
The gum started doing the job, absorbing the pretentiousness coming out of his mouth. It’s impossible to take yourself *too* seriously while chewing gum, which is why it’s such an important first treatment of cultural OD. I’ve seen some cases brought all the way back to normal just by getting the subject to blow bubbles (try discussing aesthetic dialectics with a bubble exploding onto your goatee) but he was still talking seriously about opening up an artists commune in Bend, Oregon, so we hit him full force with as much Daffy Duck as we could find. That brought him round. He shook himself.
“Whew. Thanks guys,” the wild look was fading from his eyes. “For a minute I wanted to take us all to a Luis Bunuel festival.”
That’s the thing about culture, and, in particular, Kultur. Too much of it, on your own and unsupervised, can cause you to retreate into yourself entirely.
3. Yes. Heroin will fry your synapses if you do it too much. It fries them because you’re synapses can take only so much pleasure at one time, and after a certain point you’re absorbing more stimulation than your brain knows what to do with, and it overloads. As with pleasure, so with beauty. We know this much beauty exists in the world. We know it and we force ourselves to forget, because to be fully awakened to the beauty of the world would be to walk around in a daze, stupid grins on our faces, muttering “Gosh” quietly every so often. I knew there was this much beauty in the world, but I deliberately made myself forget. But now, confronted full force, with it, unable to hide from it, it is overwhelming and my brain and body don’t know what do with themselves. It changes you, particularly when you can sit in the Belvedere Museum alone for three hours staring at Klimt with no one to tell you they’re hungry or tired, as you forget that you’re hungry and tired, forgetting everything but beauty, beauty overwhelming, until you’re lost mate, lost beyond the hope of redemption.
Having other people around is both good and bad. People are a normalizing influence on us. They keep us from going off the deepend. They help remind us that we’re full of shit (and we are all so very full of shit). But that same normalizing influence that keeps us from becoming too much of an asshole, too much enamored of the soud of our own voices, the sound of our own typing, this normalization also keeps us from becoming extraordinary.
I have no illusions of being extraordinary. But ODing on this much inspiration, this much beauty, without a safety valve, is also an exhilirating thing.