Notes from/for/to/as An Existential Critic: on Daydreaming


Like everyone reading this, I’m an Animal. A peculiar kind of Animal who is both natural and capable of imagining (and realizing) the unnatural: my definition of Human. What is “unnatural”? Anything that couldn’t have existed without the intervention of Human intelligence.

Somewhere between the natural of the Human Animal and the unnatural of the Human Animal’s intelligent interventions, there is a break in the continuum. How can a natural thing or condition give rise to the unnatural? The break in the continuum between these opposing states is where we find Free Will, possibly, one euphemism for which might well be “the Soul”. There is a subset of “Natural” that includes some of Natural’s opposite: “Natural to the Human”.

What is Natural to the Human? In the broadest sense it’s inclusive of things also natural to Animals: hunger, reliance on and pleasure in the senses, fear of injury and/or death, pain, a need to sleep, excretion, territoriality (including a basic sense of possessions, home, and, in some animals, community… the corollary to which will be rules or patterns of socialization), an inclination toward, or built-in capability of, self-defense. In the exclusive sense, what is Natural to the Human? Certainly not Technology: beavers have their (often architecturally miraculous) dams, birds have their nests, spiders have their webs, ants their hills and bees their hives, et al. The only thing one can think of that is exclusively Natural to Humans is Daydreaming.

Daydreaming includes subsidiary activities like Storytelling (eg, Belles Lettres, Studio Arts and Cinema, Theater, Music; aka Culture) and Existential Discontent (aka Ambition). Of course, we haven’t, as yet, a clue whether ants or bees or dolphins Daydream, but we can (possibly) deduce, from the fact that, for example, all bee hives/ ant hills/ beaver dams/ spider webs/ bird nests are either essentially identical or belong to a handful of familiar categories, that the secret intellectual lives of non-Human Animals are governed by what we call Instinct. Ie, non-Human Animal “ideas” are not individuated; they are “granted”, en masse, on a molecular level… whether in the RNA or somewhere else below consciousness.

Daydreaming is an individual Human activity imbued with the personality of the Daydreamer: look at the great variety in creative expressions (after factoring out the structural constants of utility or convention); compare Godard’s work to Kubrick’s work; compare the architectural works of the Franks (Gehry and Lloyd-Wright) to Zaha Hadid’s; compare James Brown to Eric Satie. The essential differences… the irreducible quanta of individual expression… are traceable to the idiosyncrasies, from one soul to the next, in Daydreaming. If non-Human Animals are capable of imagining anything other than various obvious (at hand) permutations of What Already Is, (aka Daydreaming), it isn’t expressed in any way yet detectable by Human Intelligence.

Everything we see of the Human that is exclusive to the Human is down to Daydreaming, which splits into cardinal subsets: Storytelling and Ambition. Most Cultural Artifacts are a result of the interaction between the two (though some can be determined to exist as a result of Daydreaming’s will toward Storytelling alone: how many poems were written and hidden in a drawer, never to be rediscovered? Ambition there nil or nearly).

We, as Humans, are always Daydreaming and sometimes telling stories as a result of the Daydreams. Just as one can tell stories without being ambitious, one can be ambitious without telling stories about it: the two siblings share a parent (Daydreaming) without being entirely similar. The White Collar Criminal’s crimes began as Daydreams of Ambition (Existential Discontent). Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow began as a Daydream that Ambition propelled into a grandiose effort of Storytelling. Ditto Diaghilev’s Swan Lake. Ditto Aretha Franklin’s debut on Atlantic Records, but whose Daydream came first: Aretha’s or Ahmet’s or Jerry’s? Determining the answer to such unanswerable questions is the Existential Critic’s task.

Every law/ novel/ war/ sonnet/ museum/ engineering marvel/ political party/ space probe/ blockbuster movie/ nation state/ seduction/ album/ religion/ fashion statement/ app/ invention/ impressionist nude… began as a Daydream.

(Wo)man: the Daydreaming Animal.

The Daydream exists in the break in the continuum between the natural and unnatural. It exists in the gap we call “Free Will” or Soul. If you want to understand anything made or caused by Human hands, remember that, first of all, before anything else, it began as a Daydream. Anything made or caused by Human hands should, first of all, be critiqued as a Daydream.

Some Daydreams are breathtaking, some trite, some evil.


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