The ancient yachags* of the Abya Yala* say that the young seeker who is undertaking a journey to the depths of self may get lost until she finds the fine line that connects her to the soul. Such a voyage could be considered the equivalent, in psychoanalytic terms, to psychosis. The young apprentice who has persevered and suffered (gone through) the many ailments and pains that this voyage entails, may come out of the plunge intact with the gift of seeing. Yet, what fate awaits the individual endowed with such a gift? In our metaphysical era of measure and calculation, scientific approaches to mental illness have confined many of these “seers” to mental institutions and even condemned them to death. These individuals do not fit the model of the ready-made individual who can be part of the state apparatus of constant production. As Franco “Bifo” Berardi writes: “Semiocapitalism is based on the exploitation of the soul as a productive force and as a market place” (Berardi 204). When the individual is unable to produce any longer, it gets discarded. Such is the case of the artist Paul Goesch.
I became acquainted with the work of Goesch the summer of 2018 at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin when I ventured into a small room that contained seven or eight small colorful paintings. Each image depicted a character at the center of the picture plane in vivid and joyful colors. As I approached the first painting with the intention of examining it closely, I noticed the portrait appeared to depict a man with hollowed eyes. The other portraits possessed similar features with eyes that seemed like large voids where the imagination could get lost. As Jean Luc Nancy contends, “As with poetics and logic, mimesis bears within it the premise of autonomy. In this sense, every portrait—including, as we suggested previously, every representation, is a self-portrait” (Nancy 61). I could see in Goesch’s portraits his own self-portrait, void eyes, seeking in dismay. The curatorial text confirmed my wondering as it told the story of Goesch, a curious artist and architect, friend to many artists and philosophers such as Rudolf Steiner, who was unfortunately taken by mental illness at a young age. I say unfortunately because of the stigma that has been associated with mental illness since the early nineteenth century. Just like Goesch, 200,000 other people who suffered some form of mental illness, were sent to death by Hitler’s Nazi regime since they were unable to produce or were deemed unable to be part of the system. Goesch experienced hallucinations and was diagnosed with dementia praecox, what is now called schizophrenia. He lived close to his family for many years as he continued painting and working. The Nazi regime interrupted this life and sent him to forced labor camps where he was prohibited to paint. Soon after, he was sent to the death chamber. His life was cut short at the mere age of fifty-five.
Amazonian shamanic systems of knowledge, contend that the plunge to the depths of soul, or as Heidegger states, “being held out into the nothing,” is a quest every being has to take in order to find herself, or, in Heideggerian terms, to ask themselves the “ontological question of Being” (Heidegger 103). Occidental modern life has deceived us in ways in which idle talk and constant chattering exclude us from posing the question of Being. Conversely, the Amazonian shaman’s training with plants and lonely dwelling enables him/her to take the elemental plunge into the depths of being. Paul Goesch, through his own process, had taken that plunge, his portraits bear witness to the deep recognition of a troubled soul and spirit. In these times where the world is changing, I believe we might learn how to recognize the seers of our world from the systems of thought provided by shamanism and Heidegger’s question of Being. Perhaps artists, deemed in many ways crazed, are those seers helping us cross into the coming world as our translators or “cosmopolitical diplomats” in Viveiros de Castro’s parlance (Viveiros de Castro 151). I’d dare say these artists are the shamans of our world.
*Glossary: Yachag: Kichwa word meaning shaman or seer.
Abya Yala: Kichwa word meaning the Americas.
Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. And, phenomenology of the End. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agent Series. MIT Press, Cambridge Mass. And London, England, 2015
Nancy, Jean Luc. Portrait. New York: Fordham University Press, 2018
Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo. Cannibal Metaphysics: For a post-structural Anthropology. Minneapolis: Univocal Press, 2014