Would you rather live in a land in which furniture, clothing, food, housing and so on were average, middling, perhaps largely machine-made and music, painting, literature and festival were transcendently beautiful and widely mastered (let’s call this Ludwigland) or a land in which poetry, sculpture, theatre and dance were all okayish, usually churned out pulpy stuff, while the ovens, bicycles, swimming pools and underwear were all fit for a Queen (we’ll call this place Nigellia)?
Nigellians value comprehensible arts over ineffable arts. By comprehensible arts I mean those that predominantly involve thought — ideas, beliefs, theories, memories and the like — and objects — brick, mud, cloth, cheese, wood and so on. Thought and objects may appear to be radically different, but in fact separate, nameable, graspable objects, existing in time and space, are created by thought — or by the same concentrating, isolating activity as thought. Thoughts and objects are really just ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ poles of one rational continuum.
And so the comprehensible arts include, at the object end, cooking, fashion, sport, woodwork, ironwork, architecture, design, etc and at the thought end, all sciences and all technical know-how.
Ludwiglandians value the ineffable arts over the comprehensible. By ineffable arts I mean those which predominantly involve consciousness, energy, vibe (or vibration), mythic form,1 light, presence, the present moment and other qualities that elude strict definition and graspable (‘isolate-able’) focus. The ineffable arts also have a continuum, from the quality and reality of consciousness — that which is aware of ‘my’ thoughts, emotions and perceptions (‘the hearer of sounds’, ‘the thinker of thoughts’ as the Upanishads put it) — out to the quality and reality of the context, or present — that which is completely happening now before my dividing mind parcels it up into objects and ideas.
The ineffable arts then, include, at the context end, dance, music, literature and myth, ritual and festival, theatre, film and the fine arts, and at the consciousness end, all inspiration, love, reverie and communion.
BLACK AND WHITE AND SHADES OF GREY
None of this is to say that refined sensibility, sensitivity to organic forms, love of quality, unhurried organic development, conscious inspiration, genius and other such imponderables do not play a decisive part in the truest or loveliest of comprehensible creations — because they obviously do — but they do not predominate in the same way they do with the ineffable arts, which is why a machine-made meal could potentially be pretty tasty, while a machine-written love-song would never, ever, be lovely; at least to a Ludwiglandian.
Nor is it to say that craft, science, tradition, graspable ideas, rationality, solid objects, imagination (which, despite Nigellian protestations, is comprehensible) and matter are in any way irrelevant to the creation of so-called high art. Ludwig himself was obsessed with technique, as all great artists have been. But Ludwiglandians put the comprehensible at the service of the ineffable.
In other words in the make-up of human activity there is no black-and-white split between Ludwigland and Nigellia, and to suggest so is an absurd, abstract and irrelevant thought-experiment; in reality the two blend into each other in countless contextual shades of grey.
But in the order of priorities — which comes first; the comprehensible or the ineffable, or which is ultimately more important — this is as black and white as a question can be. And this is what the question — where would you rather live — is standing in for.
BUT WHERE DO WE LIVE?
Have you noticed how television is full of sports, celebrity chefs, farming, antiques, documentaries about classical music, repeats, trivia quizzes, reportage, the news, popular science shows and dramas that bear no relation whatsoever to the real world? Have you noticed how the most mediocre paintings, books and music that appear are lauded to high heaven (‘masterpiece!’ ‘genius!’) while genuine quality is overlooked, misunderstood, mocked or actively hated? Have you noticed how absolutely everything is rated everywhere, at all times?
Yep, that’s right; we live in Nigellia. In Nigellia everything, being basically comprehensible, can be rated. Not just celebrity chef recipes, or Ikea Ektorps, or football matches, or beaches in Macedonia, or substandard novels, or the art of yesterday (no matter how grand)2, or culturally-approved youthfulness — which, indeed, can be scored — but orgasms, consciousness, subversive comedy, mighty works of madame genius, motherhood, good behaviour, character, entire forests, and this very moment.
And that which cannot be rated — togetherness, heroism, unconditional love, the conscious I behind the thoughts and things I perceive, devastating originality, living beauty, can’t-quite-put-my-finger-on-it-ness, the wisdom of ordinary people, the intelligence of nature, the madful freedom and sexuality of young children, the ungraspable totality of what is happening before mind and emotions get involved and the ineffable love of a real woman — is a stupid, ludicrous, uneconomic, criminal, boring, extreme, old-fashioned, ‘of no interest to our viewers’ or weird threat.
Nigellians are happy in the world you see on television. The world of breakfast interviews, steamy period pieces, eternal football, Paris catwalks, light lunch at Ottolenghi’s, eve online, smart-talking sufficiently neurotic New York comedians, private views at the Tate Modern, Glasto, unspoilt Croatia… all that, forever and ever. Two thumbs up!!!
Nigellians are happy with comprehensible, rateable experiences, with an endless parade of fine objects, with machine-made music, stories and art, with virtual reality, with gentrified neighbourhoods, gentrified holidays and AI… for the simple reason that they are unacquainted with the ineffable. They live entirely comprehensible lives. When the ineffable does appear, it strikes them as strange, boring, frightening, pretentious, stupid, laughable or nonsensical, and is either ignored, ridiculed, eradicated or assimilated (i.e. co-opted).
AND WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
All this makes it look like the choice between Nigellia and Ludwigland is between food and music, which of course it is not. If it were, then ‘leave work, hit the open road and discover yourself’ would be good enough to find Ludwigland.
By its very nature the journey cannot possibly be a graspable cliché, or be primarily a matter of what is manifestly happening in your life. The solution to finding the ineffable is, and must be, itself ineffable.3
Nigellians will assume this means the ineffable is imaginary — and how they love the imagination! ‘Be more imaginative!’ we are told, ‘Live the dream! Follow your heart!’ As if these aims were noble in themselves. No matter that imagination can be just as pointless, painful and ugly as ‘reality’, that dreams can be nightmares, that the heart can hanker for the basest and most painful of prizes. What we need is great imagination, truthful dreams and the ineffable bellymind which beats under the heart… but none of this is permitted in Nigellia, which declares the great, the true and the ineffable to be ‘mystic nonsense! otherwordly madness!’
Which is kind of true. Ultimately Ludwiglandia is reached by slowly4 going mad — at least by this world’s standards. Not anxiety, depression, ocd, psychopathy, schizophrenia or any other Nigellian state.
The madness of the extraordinary truth.
- which I define as transdimensional forms in The Apocalypedia.
- which includes, of course, the works of Ludwig himself. While he lived he had his moment in the sun, but soon went out of fashion, spending many ignored and mocked, close to penury. Like Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, D.H. Lawrence, Van Gogh, Philip K Dick and many others whose genius can be safely acknowledged when they (and the society they contended with) are no longer around.
- ‘I see you’ve got a lot to say about the unsayable, ho! ho! ho!’ Snidery aside, it is a fair criticism. When I use the words ‘ineffable’, ‘unspeakable’, ‘unthinkable’ and so on I am referring to that which cannot be literally — directly, unambiguously and abstractly — expressed in words; i.e. in language as it is understood in Nigellia. Great art, profound myth, mind-blowing poetry, tender words of loving inspiration and many other Ludwiglandian verbal creations can give voice to the unspeakable or serve as vehicles for communion.
- Yes, it takes time. By the time you’re in your twenties Nigellia has got its teeth into your psyche, and freeing yourself from its grip is a long, complex process; nuanced, vivid, pitted with sloughs, inner struggles, sordid failures, compromise and release, consciousness and slipping back, but always led by an undercurrent of strange certainty, deep instinct and refusal to live where the ineffable is not present; all of which regularly erupts in a delight not of this world.