Three fragments of Leonard Cohen’s poetry; questions about art, design, and intention.
The incompletion of a promise, of a mistake knowingly committed, an acknowledged failure, is an imperfection which drives the quest to its resolution. Cohen described this in a subversion of Old Testament Psalm 137, in which an exiled Israelite, instead of vowing never to forget Jerusalem, vows never to forget Babylon, never to forget the horror that has been imposed upon him, and from it nurture an impossible thought of beauty.
This is the character that plans the ideal monastery, the ideal fortress. He derives the principles of perspective projection, bringing his representations closer to ‘truth.’ There is not enough gold around, so he must transmute lead. His life is too short, he needs a magic potion. He abhors the disorder that surrounds him, but does not understand it. Still, he can’t help but try, to establish control over something incomprehensible.
But is his search futile? What if there is no perfection to return to? What if there is only him, and Babylon and Jerusalem are just cities?
Perhaps design has no divine vision, no mandate to uphold a ‘sacred’ truth. Perhaps it is grounded precisely in humanity, and is as essentially fallible as we are. Then for it to go forward, humanity must improve itself, or at least its understanding, and if the unknown is not divine, then it must be attainable.
So he must think about anthropology. Rationalize history, process, economics, and every subsequent implication into a formally defined theorem. But sometimes, these equations aren’t enough: the data is sublime, and can’t be contained in the mathematics. Markets crash, kingdoms fall, and he is left with a fractured truth.
This is the cubist, the impressionist, the photojournalist; curating exactly what is expressed. He can’t control everything, so control is reserved for discrimination. But through a lucid articulation of a single instance, the system is rendered transparent.
This is Jean Tinguely, Andy Goldsworthy, and Enric Miralles unwittingly conspiring with one another: designing machines of self-destruction, sculptures that come alive at the brink of their coherence, and cemeteries that understand their temporal scale. They perfect their existence by exercising perfect control of their future. No mummification, no fountain of youth, no monuments to Ozymandias. Instead, a deep understanding of the potential and extent of one’s influence, and through it, a minor empowerment over the larger system of creation and destruction.
[ art, design and philosophy, leonard cohen, poetry ]