Happy Mortal

This life, well-lived.

The Age of Adz and Dexter: Or Madness as the New Hermeneutic pt. 2

Continued from (The Age of Adz and Dexter: Or, Madness as the New Hermeneutic)

To hear him explain his creative process with this album–he got lost. Whether he got tired of the banjo and the kitchenSufjan Stevens @ Beacon Theatre sink shtick, or just wanted to explore something new and different, he started experimenting with electronic sounds. He spent month after fascinating month building sounds and layers, and accomplished absolutely nothing. Having set aside his previous muse (rural americana, which he used to tell stories both simple and poignant in the understated yet iconic language that powered the emergent indie scene) he needed a new one.

He found it in Royal Roberts, a schizophrenic artist and musician whose art features prominently in Sufjan’s visual portrayal of The Age of Adz. That Royal’s art and music spurred the writing and conceptualization of The Age of Adz is not as interesting as that it was in the incoherence of Royal’s work that Sufjan rediscovered his creative will.

As I reflect on my experience with these forays into madness, I can’t help but think in terms of nuance. It starts with this question: What is the difference between madness as muse and madness as hermeneutic?

When I watch Dexter I lose myself. Similarly, as I watched Alice in Wonderland, I got lost in the flows of narrative. Such is the vicarious nature of art. During The Age of Adz, I merely felt lost. Almost taken advantage of in a way. The experience was incoherent enough that I couldn’t enjoy the encore, which consisted of an acoustic set of all his “old” stuff, which his back up singer was so unfamiliar with she had to read the lyrics off a sheet of paper.

Perhaps it was telling that Sufjan closed the show with a half-hearted version of John Wayne Gacy Jr., a song about a serial killer who stuffed the corpses of neighborhood boys under his house. In the end, Sufjan seemed at a loss to convey the nature of his creation. However, the lyrics to the final song, and the fact that it was placed at the end of a show inspired by madness, make me think that, at least to Sufjan, it somehow captures his predicament. Consider the last line:

And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid

Sufjan said several times during the show that he wasn’t mad, and that he didn’t suffer from madness. His words fell flat. No one crafts a show that epic in stature, without having stood transfixed by the muse at its center. Madness was his raison de jouissance. It seems strange to me that he had a hard time admitting that fact. Perhaps, that’s one of the reasons that the show fell flat.

We live in an age of madness. Our symbolic connection to the world is relentlessly stripped away. As Rilke would say it:

“The things we live by are falling away more than ever, replaced by an act without its symbol…”

During The Age of Adz I found myself contemplating Heidegger’s diagnosis of the existential trauma of our current age. I found myself also wondering about his suggested cure. “Such a realm is art,” he tells us. The longer I sit with that answer, the harder it becomes to know what is meant by “art.”

For me, the question remains: What is the difference between madness as muse and madness as hermeneutic? To say it another way: What is the difference between losing ourselves in art, and just plain getting lost because of it?