Integrating philosophy into modern times. The inherent risks! Eastern philosophy (colour me in!) ‘Hi, one happiness please.’ Viewing eastern philosophy with western eyes.
A few years ago, whilst living in London I, like many others struggled to contend with rising prices of rent. I had finished studying Music Technology at Kingston University and had set aside some money to survive on before I got a job in the music industry. I had been armed with a sense of entitlement adorned by the various well-meaning university lecturers who lifted me with praise. As the years passed, London had begun to mutate rapidly – boroughs rife with crime and the foreboding scenery became gentrified and re-appropriated into a playground for the wealthy.
‘I can’t fail, so and so from that movie… you know… the one in the cinema last month… he composed the music! He said my work was great! He invited me to a tutorial, they wanted to confirm I hadn’t cheated!’
Before graduating, I had networked and corresponded with multiple high-profile studios and agencies – many of which like my teachers spoke highly of my work and so flirted with notions of future employment.
The fact this article is published in an illustration portfolio is a self-explanatory clue as to how plans unfolded. Although – as we all know – London is prohibitively expensive to exist in (if a life lacking in material suffering is desired). I didn’t quite leave but held the city with a fragile and warring grip for as long as I could.
I had begun to squat with a group of Italian men, on the outskirts of London above Costa. I was working full time at the phone shop (I still do), to save for another deposit for a place to live. My assistant manager at the time, Karyl washed my clothes for me as it was summer and they began to project a fragrance of perpetual staleness. I had been working on an exhibition in the property, and begun to feel like a modern Bukowski (don’t let poets lie to you). My health of course deteriorated – there weren’t any mirrors there – so I hadn’t noticed how sad my eyes looked.
How valuable this time was! I had acquired a new set of hobbies – my favourite though was travelling on the buses (not the bendy-busses, they were confiscated from the city and placed else ware). The maximum spend for the red buses was around £4.40, so you could effectively enjoy a London day out with little expenditure. I would read every Pitchfork review and listen to new albums with studio quality headphones and DACs isolating the sound of the city and so soaked in the visual carousel of TfL's network. I began to map out the city, it’s people and the zones that quantized them into pens. Such an outlook may only be afforded in the midst of so-called depression. I had begun to read novels that bludgeoned me with speculation.
In a job interview, you can spin anything – I (could) form a self-portrait with strands of experience and piece them together like a cheap and hastily sewn tapestry and present this forward as a summation of my being. That rarely works – but when you apply the act of sewing facts together like this and turn it inwards and project such imagery in day to day life you can create a narrative. You needn’t bother with an internal monologue – in fact, the frictional half-truths will eat away integrity to the point the internal voice is just a reminder to maintain outward lies. In the grand scheme of it all, I am so well off, so fortunate, and so have no right what so ever to brandish such experience as a way of life. It was a holiday.
I dredge because this was a wonderful time. Only then could I bathe in the aesthetics of music, art and the world around me with unrivalled attention. I can’t get away with such a life anymore and shouldn’t - for when I look back, I smile without hesitation at my naivety and how little I knew. London was a portrait of humanity, with everyone clawing away to reach great heights, I started to spectate on those who kept the world afloat; and by that, I mean the bus drivers, litter pickers and shop workers – and so an unwavering sympathy manifested and set permanent residence in me. To suffer at the bottom felt courageous, and for those at the top I feel must have felt the vertigo and nausea you feel when looking down on others as small specs of colour; no one is safe from the burden of existence (hey Sartre, so so sorry for that). It may cost £6.50 for a pint of average hops in Brixton, and it may be easy to exist within the superficiality – but what a tragedy this is for the individual.
Obviously, I couldn’t say such a thing before colliding with existential philosophers like Camus, and Sartre. I am aware these books granted me new lenses of sight, but (in keeping with the analogy here…) The lenses are dirty and only mildly illuminating.
This is perhaps why I am here writing about such a topic. And why I am in love with illustration. What I am sure of though, is that we are born into a world of extravagant complexity and nuance.
My much-discussed notion of looking at eastern philosophy with western lenses worries me immensely. It feels like gentrification to me, like the BBC inviting ‘Big Nastie’ to report the weather… the mindfulness colouring in books… This; curiously, is what drives my project and image making. Unlike the 2012 Robert, there is no entitlement anymore. I think I might feel better now.
Let’s never mention this again.