exploring the edge where cultural transmission ends and extracultural becoming of man begins
Since 2012, I have been working on an innovative theoretical approach concerning the relation between the notions of the human and the cultural, questioning the apparent obviousness of human condition treated as necessarily and exclusively cultured one. Existential circumstances such as madness, disease or decrepitude may be interpreted as events and circumstances that strip the human bare of his or her protective cultural integument, forcing him or her to experience the events in an extracultural manner, i.e. beyond the usual patterns and paradigms of reacting. Apocalyptic events, as the time of disruption of norms and rituals (kairos of Christian eschatology), may offer an insight into a sphere that cannot be explored at other times, when cultural transmission goes on unperturbed and uninterrupted. Novel outcomes of such disruptive events constantly become a part of the subsequent cultural transmission. Any invention of new forms attacks and undermines the frontiers of the culturally given, yet contributes to the expansion of the frontiers of culturally codified experience. In my works in cultural theory, such as the collection of essays Humanistyka, która nadchodzi (The Coming Humanities, 2018), I treat culture as a phenomenon of transmission, a totality of whatever we learn from other human beings, and what we are invited to reproduce as faithfully as possible, at a minimal modification. This static and stabilising potential of the cultural requires critical vigilance. Also, culture is essentially a feature of a community determining, dominating, normalizing the individual. Having in mind this oppressive, stabilising, limiting and potentially destructive character of the cultural transmission, I am profoundly interested in exploring the elements that cultures marginalize, reject, disqualify, that accumulate at their silenced and forgotten frontiers. Collectively and individually experienced time of exception, that may be defined as such in which the usually valid cultural paradigms and procedures lose their efficacy and validity, play a crucial role in such an extracultural growth as postulated above; it brings about the revelation of yet unexplored, uncharted modalities of human subjectivity. As I claim, it is possible to overcome culture understood as a totality of transmitted and automatized habits; cultural condition, although it seems inherent to every human being, may be transgressed; cultures may be unlearnt, de-essentialised, transformed from bulk identities into a filigree. Such a process of unlearning, de-automatising of the reactions that are usually channelled through culturally determined paradigms, may bring about progressive growth of the sphere of insight, awareness, autonomy and choice, forming positive legacies, although their transmission only partially enters the usual, cultured paradigms. Think about the silence of a zen master trying to indicate to his apprentice the way of illumination. Nonetheless, the reflection on extracultural becoming of man implies a somehow pessimistic definition of culture that is implicit in my exploration of cultural frontiers; I assume that men, or at least some exceptional, maverick individuals, constantly clash against cultural limitation; a constant war is waged in the borderlands of culture. I try to show what motivates the necessity of such a radical criticism of the cultural and the search for extracultural modalities of being human. Yet how to get an insight into such an outer sphere of the extracultural and what I expect to find there? Cultural traditions are rich in traces of extracultural experiences of the past. Traces that are almost obliterated, hardly readable, yet possible to discover and interpret. Extracultural becoming may not be as novel, hypothetical and unexplored as we might be inclined to believe; on the contrary, it may be a regularly visited sphere, even a resource for individuals who chose to search for liberty, bliss, beauty, fulfilment or intimacy with God beyond what would be their culturally limited destiny.