Monday, April 12, 2010

Juggalos vs. The Enlightenment

If we did not have to live our lives amid a fog of uncertainty about a whole range of matters that are actually of fundamental interest and importance to us, it would no longer be a human mode of existence that we would live. Instead we would become a being of another sort, perhaps angelic, perhaps machine-like, but certainly not human.
- Nicholas Rescher, Forbidden Knowledge

Fucking magnets, how do they work?
- Shaggy 2 Dope, Miracles

In Miracles, we find Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, the Insane Clown Posse, giving an itemized list of things that provoke transcendental bliss. Things counted by Messrs. Jay and Dope in the category of "miraculous" include but are not limited to:

- Oceans spanning beyond one's sight;
- Long-necked giraffes, pet cats and dogs;
- Niagara Falls and the Pyramids;
- Water, fire, air and dirt;
- A pelican that tried to eat a cell phone.

The Posse are in awe of the world and the things in it, and they won't have this awe marginalized by petty human attempts to codify existence. In the piece's most widely-quoted lyric, Shaggy 2 Dope expresses open hostility toward those who would reduce the objects of his admiration to humanly quantifiable phenomenon:
Fucking magnets, how do they work?
And I don't wanna talk to a scientist
Y'all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed.

This pugnacious attitude toward the Enlightenment project of human elevation through scientific knowledge places the ICP on a timeline extending from Socrates' maxim of "I know only that I do not know," all the way through that celebrated stone in the stream of Enlightenment, John Keats, and his complaints of the "mathematizing of language"; his frequent barbed toasting "to Newton's health, and confusion to his mathematics."

But it echoes also wisdom from further abroad. In his Tao te Ching, the great Chinese scholar Lao Tzu counsels us:
The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavors dull the mouth....
Therefore, the wise human attends to the belly, and not to what he sees. He rejects the latter and chooses the former.
- 12: Moderation
Tzu's advice can be interpreted as cautionary: our rapacious urge to categorize, to reduce an item to those properties which we can see, blinds us to the item's totality. Rather than pursue this fool's errand, better to attend to those earthy needs that one does not need scholarly learning to perceive.

"The Dark Carnival," the Insane Clown Posse's mythological conception of a realm of earthly delight and terror, functions as a world where this imperative is all: it is
your invitation
To witness that without explanation
Take a look at this fine creation
And enjoy it better with appreciation.
The Insane Clown Posse delight in acting as Ifrit-like persecutors of the sinful, and they here add the over-inquisitive to that mix: just as Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, proclaimed that:
Desire to know how and why, CURIOSITY… is a lust of the mind, that by a perseverance of delight in the continual and indefatigable generation of knowledge, exceedeth the short vehemence of carnal pleasure.
...So the Dark Carnival welcomes lesser sinners of the flesh - the angry, the carnally lustful - but turns away scientists. Those motherfuckers lie and get you pissed. Whereas, in proclaiming phenomena such as the sun, moon, childbirth and genetic lineage "shit that'll shock your eyelids," Violent J assumes for himself the mantle of Michel de Montaigne and Blaise Pascal, thinkers aware of their portée: mental or philosophic reach.

In proclaiming the miraculous provenance of the Milky Way, rivers, shooting stars and vicious weather, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope affirm their perfect placement in the hierarchy of all things as decreed by Montaigne, who ruled that "a man can only be what he is and can imagine only according to" this notion of portée, or philosophic limit.

"Our intelligence," argues Pascal, "occupies in the order of intelligible things the same place as our body in the extent of nature." Violent J reminds us that in this harmonious state, we need not dull our senses to appreciate our circumstances: "We don't have to be high to look in the sky / And know that's a miracle opened wide."

In embracing their portée, the Posse stake a claim to greater appreciation of the world's wonders. Their paradise is that "sweet soft pillow" offered to the "well-made head" by Montaigne's suggested attitudes of "ignorance and incuriousness." J and Dope profess rhapsody while surveying hot lava, snow, rain, fog, even UFOs and fucking shooting stars; this rhapsody can only come from careful study of Emily Dickinson's warning against too-close scrutiny, "lest interview annul a want / that image satisfies"[1].

And those who would deny miracles, extend beyond their portée? Their own goal - that of perfect knowledge - is not beyond them yet. "The truth you seek to fathom," counsels Peter Damian in Dante's Divine Comedy, " lies so deep in the abyss of the eternal law, it is cut off from every creature's sight." Or, as the Posse would caution: "That wicked shit! Who can survive Hell's Pit?"

[1] For this analysis of Dickinson, and for many of the quotes and attitudes expressed herein, I am indebted to Roger Shattuck's sublimely curmudgeonly Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography.


Matt Powell said...

Of course you have seen A Science Textbook For Juggalos, but there is no sense in which it cannot deserve a wider audience.

Homage said...

Indeed I have, and it was one of the best things I have seen on Cracked in some time.