There’s reality. Layer 0. Reality is Truth with a capital hard T. If you don’t run with it, it will smack you in the face. Or kill you.
Then there’s words. Layer 1. We use words to communicate, to build things. Words add another layer of meaning. We joke with words, deploy irony, twist meanings. There are a lot of fun things you can do with words.
But, while words are “real” to an extent that they make other, physical, things happen…words aren’t real. Most words are sophistry, painting a picture of a real thing over Layer 0 so as to obscure Layer 0. The best words clear away the obstructing Layer 1 debris to uncover the Truth beneath.
This can be a painful, dirty process, which is why people kill truth-tellers like Socrates and Jesus.
That leads us to the crux of my thinking, the thorn in my side: “The Word became Flesh.”
Jesus, LOGOS, became man to walk among us. LOGOS, truth. LOGOS, words. Jesus is the reconciliation between Layer 0 and Layer 1. Jesus is the anti-sophist. Jesus is the embodiment of Truth in Words. So to be like Jesus, you need to also become Truth in your words. If you tell lies, or “bear false witness against your neighbor,” you are not pointed in the direction of Layer 1 bearing witness to Layer 0. That is, Christ.
And that leads me to aesthetics. We communicate also with pictures, through art and advertising, design and memes and architecture. There are lots of ways to convey messages non-verbally. Many language-oriented academics deny this, a fact that got me thinking about this subject when I was in graduate school. They claim that all thought is mediated through language. I content that they’ve never been emotionally moved by a true, deep color or played music ever in their lives. It is entirely possible to communicate without words. In fact, there’s a whole movie built on that premise (Close Encounters with the Third Kind).
But I digress. Reality is Layer 0. Words are Layer 1. Words build culture, a shared understanding. So that can be Layer 2. Culture builds up law, Layer 3. And so on. All of those are socially-based things, intangible things.
(This is also why I’m so interested in words and how they are physically formed with typography and the like, because words are intangible so to make them physical is one of the ultimate Acts of Creation, see “Word became Flesh,” but again I digress)
Where does that leave us, though, with the visual? Man made cave drawings before writings. We communicated through visual medium before the written word (although we probably had spoken words at that time). The written word is a subset of a visual medium.
A house is four walls and a roof, but there are many different styles in which you can put together those components. You can build a mud hut, or a house out of bricks, or a cookie-cutter Victorian or a modernist concrete structure. Style changes over time, depending on the available technology and materials, plus the people to put them together and their history.
Physical artifacts of history, like old forks that are dug up from archeological sites, and paintings and book printings, and more interesting to me than historical records. For one, written historical narratives can LIE LIE LIE like people do with Layer 1 (and if that Layer 1 is built only on an understanding of Layers 2 and 3, rather than a firsthand account of Layer 0…God help us).
That is why Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the Truth. He is the conduit to Layer 0 so that we don’t get confused and lose our way.
Old forks give us a physical representation of Layer 0. These are things that people used to live their lives, and they give us clues to how the world was around them. Paintings and novels are as a physical artifact Layer 0 but as a commentary, Layer 1 or higher, because they run Layer 0 through the brain/worldview/of the artist. So you get an idea of how they view Layer 0 (unless they are a third-rate mind looking only at Layer 3 or 4 or 5).
This is why social media gets us into so much trouble. At that point, we’re on Layer 6 or 7 or 8…so far removed from Layer 0 that we’re in danger of floating off into the ether.
I’m circling my point but I’m never actually getting there.
The Style of a Thing is not always the substance of that thing, but it is an integral part of that thing. And the style of that thing–how the creator chooses to present that thing to the world–communicates a lot. Fancy or plain. Baroque or brutalist. Intuitive or overly complex.
How does that point us to the Truth, or obscure it? Is there a true “style” of Truth? Some Christians have believed that a thing needs to be stylistically plain to avoid distracting from the truth (looking at you, Puritans, with all due respect) but at the same time, I also understand why icons and statues and other things are needed in the Church–especially in a time when most people were illiterate.
Is a true aesthetic one that points to the reality of thing it decorates, rather than misrepresenting it? IE, putting fancy packaging on a cheap product in order to charge a higher price for it.
For example, the biggest “tell” that a charcoal face mask that Tati and Jeffree Star reviewed recently was a fraud was how cheap the packaging was on the product–that nasty gold thread with the cheap bottle. That is an example of untruthful style. It is a crooked thing that doesn’t stand up straight so that the claims, price, product and outcome all stack on top of each other with a straight line to Layer 0.
In one sense, a facade can be a lie, because it obscures the actual product behind it. Think of the buildings in the old west that made one-story buildings seem taller, or the set on a movie that’s only looks like a skyline when in fact it’s just cardboard.
On the one hand, these things are a lie. On the other hand, just like art, they are used as a representation in Layer 1 or greater to (sometimes) get us to look at Truth in a new light.
That is my mission: to investigate the relationship between aesthetics and Truth.
I am not sure if aesthetics/style is another layer in the stack, but I doubt that because different styles can apply to every layer. Maybe style is a kind of force-multiplier? Sometimes style is used to obscure truth, and sometimes style is mistaken itself to be the truth. But style is just a manner in which we do things, a manner in which truth (or any subject) is presented.
Side note: as mentioned earlier, style changes with time period and people group and available technologies (such as the brightly colored Victorian dresses that sprang on to the scene when synthetic dyes were developed). I doubt that one aesthetic style can be of more truth-value than another…right? Another thing to investigate.
I’m sure some philosopher somewhere has already covered this to a much greater extent than I already have, and hopefully I will read them someday. But I also want to work through it on my own.
Hopefully I’ll add value to someone else’s search for truth, because it really bothers me that most people who write about style do not include much substance. There’s IYI-level academic analyses, and breathless magazine writeups, but not much that’s thoughtful and in the middle. Much of my favorite cultural analytical writing is done by graphic designers, which strikes a good balance of thoughtfulness and experience, but as I’ve pointed out in my About page, most of those people are on the left somewhere.
There are lots of political commentators on the right, and to an extent social commentators and persuasion commentators, but there aren’t many design commentators. And while I am loathe to call myself an authority on anything (trust me, I’m not), and don’t really want to become a “commentator,” I’m still curious and figure–why not make a fool of myself in public? All truth-tellers do.
There’s this layer of meme magic that I’ve become aware of during the past year and a half (shoutout to Pepe here) that I think plays into this whole aethetics thing, as well. Are memes at like, Level 10? The whole “oversoul” or “shared consciousness” idea? The forces of fate that are outside our control–those shape a lot of the aesthetics of the age. And what does that mean? Can we help shape or control those things? Or do they control us? We are all trapped in our own time, and some of us who are prescient can see glimmers of the future, but most of us can’t. Those of us who are wise will learn from the past, from the other time periods that we have access to. But we have to learn from Layer 1 or greater, because it is not possible to access Layer 0 of another time. Only of our own time. Layer 0 is the present, always.
Because this is my own blog and I’ve decided to not limit myself to any specific topics, I’ll write about other things like my diet (which is related to Layer 0 and contributes to my own personal aesthetic…hah) and probably Time, which fascinates me. Also Christianity, which I believe to be the Truth. So it all really relates together on some level.
I honestly believe that everything relates to everything eventually, and part of the fun of living is trying to tie disparate things together. That’s what the “Pulling at Threads” category is for.