Critical Trilogy

a critic's millennial journey



“The form doesn’t matter.” How many times was I told the narrative would find its own form! I had a difficult time trusting this process. It makes sense today when we have so many digital options for storytelling, but at the time of its initiation Critical Trilogy was a source of great perplexity.

How do we relate a narrative of a contemporary myth that is rooted in the past, yet must contain the immediacy of the present in which a mythology of the future is foretold? I abandoned 20 years of writing autobiographical fiction in order to resolve this creative problem. The result was the publication of the first volume of this idiosyncratic memoir – Kundalini’s Daughter.
The truth was, I became addicted to my earlier form, autobiographical fiction, because it provided the outlet to channel sexual patterns into creative product. But was it art? Of that I couldn’t be certain at all.
So, when a healer appeared in my path at a crucial moment in time to place my patterns, so to speak, on the table of the luxurious home where I was house-sitting in Santa Monica, I had to make a choice. Would I continue to cruise through the rest of my life being tossed and turned by my sexual adventures? Or would I rise above them by renouncing sex altogether and create something original that might indeed be considered a transformative art form? Clearly, the very fact that you are reading this makes you complicit in my decision to choose the latter.

As I stated in the introduction to the first volume, the obstacle facing all art disciplines today is this: how to create an elastic form that is alive yet timeless, utterly contemporary, yet rooted in the past, and above, all tells the truth about the joys and frustrations of the paradigm leap that we all face?

Having the critic in me present the problem, the creatrix in me set out to resolve it with the continuation of my reworking of the Psyche and Eros as the motor driving my personal memoir. The underlying theme of Psyche on 79th Street is an investigation into the very process by which a personal aesthetic is developed over time.
The book, in its very structure, struggles to unite the dichotomy of time and timelessness. I was dedicated to the truthful unfolding of events in their time, yet so much of what happened to me on the course of this journey was synchronistic in nature – the magical occurrence that jolted me out of time and space. I had to be rigorous with the truth in order to recount the sequence of clues for the reader in what was amounting to be a personal search for a universal myth manifested in time, i.e. the art of our time.

Yet, in this era before the blog, prior to the social network, we hadn’t yet developed a form for a manner of storytelling that unfolds in multiple levels. Of course, during the journey I couldn’t see the end goal that would make all the synchronicities efficacious, what proved in the end to be an original aesthetic reflecting a new art theory.
Duchamp called for works of art to be completed by audience participation. How can such a form be useful in serving as both allegory yet also a true-life adventure story? Such a form be comprehensive, yet retain this openness, transparent but airtight in structure? Isn’t this the body of the 21st century that we seek – porosity to the intuitive, yet focused on the personal passage to the Self? In fact, a work of art must reflect the evolution of the human psyche! So, my task as a writer is to be as transparent as possible so the work of art could speak through me. This transparency was essential to the formation of this book.

In his masterpiece, “Return to Origins, Jean Gebser describes the four stages of human consciousness: the magical, the mystical, the mental and the integral. The magical is the primitive, the mystical is that of the ancient civilizations that created cultures reflecting their cosmology interpreted from the night sky; the mental is the Renaissance and finally, there is the Integral, which encompasses the other three, where we are headed in the 21st century.

Despite the historical development of these four stages, we now can access them in a non-linear manner. In fact, this is what the Integral stage requires: an immediate utilization of the side of our brain that suits the task at hand. Integral art forms not only reveal this dexterity but also a transparency. The process of the birth need be accessible to viewers in order for the artwork itself to be relevant in this transformative stage of human development. Such an art form is transfigurative, for it serves as a connection to the archetypes taking form in the collective unconscious. It not only reflects the form of the emerging archetype, the Self, but reveals the process of getting there.

I had the great fortune to pioneer this Integral stage through my millennial encounters with new forms of art as they were being created. I developed this passion into the profession of newspaper art criticism. My goal was to interpret the crucial importance of the integral art form for the general reader. A small but important number of the 200 reviews of visual art, dance and cutting edge performance written over the span of five years illuminate the personal narrative, which follows this introduction.

I embarked on autobiographical fiction in 1984 with Champagne Tango, the story of my kundalini awakening externalized by Buenos Aires in its first year of democracy after eleven years of military dictatorship. Even then, I was intent on experimenting with a form that incorporated the evolving consciousness of the narrator with the unconscious currents affecting her behavior. It made logical sense to create a structure delineating the dreams, reveries and recollections of the protagonist, yet interjecting them in a manner that affected the outcome of the story. This, I felt, involved the reader with the story, an ambition that reality TV and celebrity culture seems to fulfill but literature has not achieved due to the stagnancy of its nature form – paper – within a digital culture which allows for multiple layers of penetration by way of a keystroke.
Publishers didn’t share my views, however. I self-published the manuscript and went on to write 11 others. Looking back, it is clear that the freedom of not having an audience liberated me to experiment with truth-telling forms integrating the levels of human comprehension as interpreted by Gebser.

Indeed, the visual aesthetic developed through the course of the journey begun Kundalini’s Daughter was an outgrowth of my isolated development as a literary artist. My search for a visual form connected with my unconscious imaginings. My first daily newspaper art assignment, in fact, was the 1997 Open Studios event in my hometown; the result was a travelogue of sorts, where I was the guide to the underground in search of millennial treasure – the symbols of new renaissance. I was delighted to identify symbols from my own ventures into the dark recesses of the psyche, which I penetrated through automatic writing and dream work. But it wasn’t until I was firmly launched into regular writing for a daily newspaper that I realized what an immense responsibility it is to be a critic between cultural epochs. It meant that articulating my personal resonance with superior art forms were affecting the future course of the creation of pioneering forms even while my analysis attempted to foretell the future.

Many personal issues resulted from my conscious acceptance of this challenge, only some of which are contained in this memoir. They explain the delay between finishing and publishing. In the meantime, I jumped onto the web, utilizing a ready form of instantaneous publishing to invent the blogel, a blog novel written in real time.
I took my role as interpreter extremely seriously, keeping my body as pure as possible, getting lots of sleep and timing my writing to ebb and flow naturally with the lunation cycle. In fact, this memoir began in the form of a lunar diary where every entry recounted the position of the Moon. Clearly, this approach to writing is considered just plain weird in a society still operating in linear time while adhering to the Gregorian Calendar. Yet, my goal was to find the integral art form reflecting the sacred marriage of opposites. To get there, I had to immerse myself in cyclical time, allowing the Ouroboros to rule my processes ruled by the lunar cycles and the change of seasons. This was the feminine path of following the underground stream and I knew only by placing my ear to the ground, could I hear the voice guiding me there.
The leap into the integral mode requires absorbing levels of interpretation: the magical, the mystical, the mental and the integral, which by definition includes the other three.

When a publisher expressed an interest in publishing the manuscript and I went back over the contents, I realized I had the mystical and the mental but the real life experience immersing me in the magical was missing. But how to place this preliminary experience, from 1993, into a memoir which began with my first newspaper review just after the turn of the millennium?
This structural dilemma put me right in the thicket with artists struggling to create the integral art form at the intersection of past and future. The solution turned out to be simple. I incorporated it into the narrative as a separate chapter linked to those surrounding it by the unconscious current and introduced the chapter with the phrase: back to the future. Was Gebser reaching beyond the grave? Perhaps! The effect was like putting the last piece of a puzzle together; the rewards were immediate and deep. I received newfound conscious that paved the way forward.

Through this process I found an answer to my question of why there are no books being published, or at least receiving any attention, of a personal narrative expressing a universal myth: the development of consciousness takes time and dedication. There were no female role models on his journey, for I was to later discover such women, as Margaret Fuller, were written out of the American canon.

As Gebser recommended in his methodology – a great deal of work. I was continually forced to go inward to analyze exchanges and examine my own behavior. And there was always a paradox at every turn. Did my grounding into my body of a new movement result from a placement of a missing piece into the puzzle? Or was my grounding the result of this placement? From my newfound aperspectival, integral mode of being, I say it was a combination of both!
The result, which you hold in your hands, was utterly liberating.

Lisa Paul Streitfeld
May 6, 2010

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