It was Bertrand Russell who declared that the great discovery of the twentieth century was the technique of the suspended judgment. A.N. Whitehead, on the other hand, explained how the great discovery of the nineteenth century was the discovery of the technique of discovery. Namely, the technique of starting with the thing to be discovered and working back, step by step, as on an assembly line, to the point at which it is necessary to start in order to reach the desired object. In the arts this means starting with the effect and then inventing a poem, painting, or building that would have just that effect and no other.

But the “technique of the suspended judgment” goes further. It anticipates the effect of, say, an unhappy childhood on an adult, and offsets the effect before it happens. In psychiatry, it is the technique of total permissiveness extended as an anesthetic for the mind, while various adhesions and moral effects of false judgments are systematically eliminated.

This is a very different thing from the numbing or narcotic effect of new technology that lulls attention while the new form slams the gates of judgment and perception. For massive social surgery is needed to insert new technology into the group mind, and this is achieved by the built-in numbing apparatus discussed earlier. Now the “technique of the suspended judgment” presents the possibility of rejecting the narcotic and of postponing indefinitely the operation of inserting the new technology in the social psyche. A new stasis is in prospect.

The new media and technologies by which we amplify and extended ourselves constitute huge collective surgery carried out on the social body with complete disregard for antiseptics. If the operations are needed, the inevitability of infecting the whole system during the operation has to be considered. For in operating on society with a new technology, it is not the incised area that is most affected. The area of impact and incision is numb. It is the entire system that is changed. The effect of radio is visual, the effect of the photo is auditory. Each new impact shifts the ratios among all the senses. What we seek today is either a means of controlling these shifts in the sense-ratios of the psychic and social outlook, or a means of avoiding them altogether. To have a disease without its symptoms is to be immune. No society has ever known enough about its actions to have developed immunity to its new extensions or technologies. Today we have begun to sense that art may be able to provide such immunity.

In the history of human culture there is no example of a conscious adjustment of the various factors of personal and social life to new extensions except in the puny and peripheral efforts of artists. The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs. He, then, builds models or Noah’s arks for facing the change that is at hand. “The war of 1870 need never have been fought had people read my Sentimental Education,” said Gustave Flaubert.

The percussed victims of the new technology have invariably muttered cliches about the impracticality of artists and their fanciful preferences. But in the past century it has come to be generally acknowledged that, in the words of Wyndham Lewis, “The artist is always engaged in writing a detailed history of the future because he is the only person aware of the nature of the present.” Knowledge of this simple fact is now needed for human survival.  The ability of the artist to sidestep the bully blow of new technology of any age, and to parry such violence with full awareness, is age-old. Equally age-old is the inability of the percussed victims, who cannot sidestep the new violence, to recognize their need of the artist. To reward and to make celebrities of artists can, also, be a way of ignoring their prophetic work, and preventing its timely use for survival. The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral awareness.

I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties.

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