There is no Difference

There is no Difference

Composition VII, by Kandinsky. 1913
Composition VII, by Kandinsky. 1913

New additions to Spinozablue include poems from Kyle Hemmings and Howie Good. Both bring the uncanny and the marvelous to the fore in unique ways. Two things sorely lacking in Art, to our great sadness.


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A few days ago I mused about The Other and difference. The foreignness of things, of certain subjects for Art, of their magnetism. In a sense, that could be a sign of my backsliding from the Zennish path, because Zen teaches the overcoming, the transcendence of difference. It teaches mastery over the process of discrimination and segregation, two of our biggest delusions:

That we are essentially different from one another.
That we are not one with the All.

Aside from the magnetic draw of the Other, there is an equally strong temptation to dwell inside that zone as if it is not an illusion. To feel a sort of comfort, and a sense of pride, in our ability to celebrate and elevate the difference in others, especially in light of negative, even virulent prejudice and xenophobia. To raise up is greater than its opposite. But in Buddhism, killing those opposites in our minds, ending opposition itself, is the higher goal.

There are, of course, a myriad paradoxes to sort our way through. For instance, in Buddhism, form is emptiness and emptiness is form, and no-thing is anything without all of the rest of existence. Nothing is anything in and of itself. We are all necessarily relational beings, connected, entwined, within and without, a democracy of forms holistically dependent upon each other. But the creation of Art involves choices. It involves composition. It entails leaving this or that out, because the universe is too vast. At least on the surface, it involves discrimination.

There is no form, there is nothing in the world which says nothing. Often – it is true – the message does not reach our soul, either because it has no meaning in and for itself, or – as is more likely – because it has not been conveyed to the right place.. ..Every serious work rings inwardly, like the calm and dignified words: ‘Here I am!’ — Wassily Kandinsky. 1913

We favor the simple expression of complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth.  — Mark Rothko. 1943

So, how to overcome the limitations of composition to go beyond mere choice? Is it possible to transcend Otherness, Difference, avoid hierarchies and the privileging of one cultural frame over another? Is it possible to make Art that does not separate or subjugate?

In short, is it possible to free oneself from everything but mystery and miracle?

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

The Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. Translated by Stephen Mitchell.


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