I have been dipping into Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art (Über das Geistige in der Kunst). It is a small volume, but I have been reading it in downright tiny portions. It is hardly complex or densely packed, but it is one of those books where the simplicity and directness of the presentation permits the material’s potency, it’s weightiness, to manifest all the more.
Kandinsky quoting Arnold Schönberg:
“Every combination of notes, every advance is possible, but I am beginning to feel that there are also definite rules and conditions which incline me to the use of this or that dissonance.” (16–17)
This is one of the vital insights of European modernity that I’m not sure has been well-integrated into the occult scene. There is dissonant order. The exploration of this order is the exploration, also, of this order’s particular interactions on the consonant order, the order that well suits our human being.
I suspect we could talk about scales of dissonance, too. There is the dissonant of another whose spiritual order is just a little off-kilter from the perspective of our own, but also the radical dissonance of alien spiritual intelligences.
Where it is present in the occult scene, it tends to be underconceptualized. An occult practice often uses specific forms of dissonance (strange sounds, unusual movements, etc.), but without appreciating the dissonant order itself. There is some good sense in this, especially in the preparatory work when too much dissonance can dissipate the consonant order necessary to maintain coherence, but it often shuts down the communications that can occur between consonant patterns, the way in which we spiral outward into a new, glorious, orchestral consonance (or a quiet, thrumming, red-hot consonance that bears the pressure of the world upon itself or…or…or…).
Too often, too, when that dissonant potentials of the work are discovered, they are quickly lost in a reactive glorification of the dark and spooky that erases the dissonant and replaces it with a consonant inversion. Devils and demons become anti-angels, or, even more banal, villains that embody whatever the consonant order neglects.
Kandinsky on the modern arts:
“In each manifestation is the seed of a striving towards the abstract, the non-material. Consciously or unconsciously they are obeying Socrates’ command—Know thyself. Consciously or unconsciously artists are studying and proving their material, setting in the balance the spiritual value of those elements, with which it is their several privilege to work.” (19)
Art as a counter-movement to knowledge as we usually conceive of it, from the discursive into the affective. This tells us something, too, about the advantages of the dissonant in this situation, because it moves us toward a more expansive experience of the world, toward a world that incorporates our consonant integrity but also exceeds (and inevitably demolishes) it.
Kandinsky on the abstraction that uses established forms usually deemed realistic:
“But if the object is not itself seen, but only its name heard, the mind of the hearer receives an abstract impression only…and a corresponding vibration is immediately set up in the heart…. Even a familiar word like ‘hair,’ if used in a certain way can intensify an aura of sorrow or despair.” (15)
This seem a useful way to approach some forms of religious or spiritual understanding, as a movement into the dark and generative movements of the heart.