Transforming Envy.

Years ago and far away there lived a young lad called Sanji whose home was above the local Bakery in his village. Every morning Sanji would sit on his balcony and savour the delicious aromas that wafted up, cinammon and chocolate, fresh bread and fancy pastries. A myriad wonderful smells swirled in the street and curled in through the windows.

The Baker, Sanji’s landlord, was a miserable curmudgeon who begrudged Sanji his youth and vitality, his enthusiasm for everything, his happiness at so little. For it was not just the smell of his wares that Sanji so brazenly delighted in but Life itself. Every occasion seemed like a wonder to the ignorant brat. Summer heat and Winter chill couldn’t dampen his annoying smile and so the Baker fumed at Sanji and hardened his heart.

Many years had passed since the Baker found any joy in life. He secretly envied the lad his carefree spontaneity, his faith in a life unencumbered by all the pressures that seemed to beset the Baker so much so that he could no longer enjoy the taste of his own bread let alone the smell of it on the breeze.

One morning, a Wednesday, and therefor spicy jam tart day, Sanji was taking in the morning on his balcony as usual when the Baker stormed up the steps and banged on his door.

”You can’t be enjoying all those smells for free you know,” he shouted. ”I want seven gold pieces in arrears for all the smells you’ve enjoyed at my expense”.

‘Dude, you can’t be serious.’

So the Baker took him to the Magistrate who listened to both sides and scratched his beard throughout. Eventually he said, ‘Sanji, go find seven gold pieces, we will reconvene in the morning”.

Sanji felt stumped by the unfairness of everything but towards the wee hours he realised it was more that he felt so deeply sad for the Baker who would not be a richer man for the seven gold pieces he’d spent the evening trying to rake together.

Next morning they both showed up before the Magistrate who gestured to Sanji for the bag of gold. He shook it before the Baker,”how do you like that then Baker?” he asked.

”Oh, I like it just fine”, said the Baker, reaching out for the chinking purse.

”Good,” said the Magistrate, ”because that is your payment.”


”Fair’s fair, the sound of gold for the smell of cakes. Dismisssed.”

The key to understanding envy is that it is a defense against experience. The Baker splits his vibrant yet vulnerable and heavily defended inner life onto Sanji and then persecutes him for it, since as much as it relieves him of the burden of longing so does it rob him of sponteneity and the possibility of rediscovering himself. So Sanji seems like a thief, not just of smells but of love and life itself. Much paranoia on behalf of the Narcissistic character is at this level of giving away responsibility for personal destiny to seemingly powerful Others who the person then feels has robbed them…

The problem with growing out of Narcissism is that it leads you straight into the experience of the Other, who is bound to attract all your demons and shine a light on all your imperfections, failings and losses. Envious spoiling by intellectually abstracting something so as not to feel it like a punch in the guts seems inevitable, but it does allow one’s sanity to stray. The Tulipmania of Holland in the 18th century is a good example. ‘Special’ bulbs were worth small fortunes, until someone woke up one day and decided that they were not…

Folk went bankrupt and ended up having to eat their former prizes, humbled by the extent to which such a covetous enviable fancy could be so succesfully attributed to a cousin of the onion.

”People will do anything, no matter how absurd in order to avoid facing their own souls.” C. G Jung

Much of what constitutes our leisure time is easily identifiable as avoidance of life. We favour technology that allows us a degree of abstraction from the real world. Much of it prevents communication rather than aiding it; the alienating TV screen that halts all conversation, the incessant beeping of mobiles and pagers that prevent communion with self that only a quiet hour can bring.

By the same logic of the lush, who drinks to drown the shame of being a drunk, so too do we seek refuge in abstracted realities to find some respite from disocciated lives. This it cannot do because it is symbols and people that are meaningful and not the words we use to describe them. If this were not so the need for a holiday could be satisfied by reading the broshure and the need for company by describing the kind of person you are looking for.

”In the intellect, symbols and images have become dried up and dessicated, an abstract skeleton, all structure and no life.” E. Edinger

You can watch Western Narcissism alive and well in its natural habitat throughout the world of conceptual art, a genre which now embraces anyone still alive who has had the cheek to express themselves. Its not just that I don’t like the pretentious work, or that I just don’t get exploded sheds or kiddy mittens on spiked railings. It’s that what people say about their work has become more important than the work itself. There is no contemplation, no feeling, just buzz words, slogans, intellectual abstraction whose purpose it is to interrupt experience rather than induce it.

”you just sayin’ that because you was refuse’ yourself, mon.”

Quite right, I didn’t make it through to the shortlist of the prestigous Ashurst Prize, into which I had submitted my painstaking work of five years,  a mosaic of recycled ceramic shards called, ‘Abundant Delicious’.

And of course I’m a bit miffed.

But what really bites is not just that I din’t get in, but the kind of art that did…

Now maybe its because I am a connoiseur of the ceramic shard, Mrs Shorttle’s eulogy to ‘mending what is broken’ not withstanding, but this is bullshit. And I’m not just turning my nose up at it because it required no effort, nor that it actually represents a collective fantasy of instant gratification and throwing any old crap together that is then worth thousands, but that the spiel that goes with it has the power to steer the onlooker away from their own common sense.

“If you break them and then mend them, and they’re decorative, is that a valid function or are they now defunct? That question is, I think, quite interesting in terms of society’s interpretation of the elderly.” K. Shorttle.

I was unaware the elderly could be interpreted but hey ho, if you can’t blind them with brilliance baffle them with bullshit. Just say anything…

and she does..

and its all very good sounding, yuge even…

but without this bizzare yet politically correct sounding monologue her entry is just a pile of random bits..

and very small bits they are too, mon.

We think we are so evolved and yet the acme of culture seems to have become a forum for wordy invocational spells that have the power to turn crap into art, a trick way more difficult than turning a frog into a prince. The problem is that when what you have to say about something is more important than the thing itself  the psyche dissociates. Wishing, suddenly, really can make it so. In fact, the more banal and anti-art something is, the more one’s subtly bullying powers of persuasion and verbal sophistry must plaster it with Truth. Which means anything can be art so long as you can cripple the discriminatory faculties of your audience with a sufficiently ponderous incantation.

In fact it’s crap. Its alternative art and like alternative facts it only floats if it’s delivered with staccato sound bites and the kind of supreme self confidence that actual artists tend to lack. Which is why we hide in our studios. The tragedy is not simply that all of us are then taken for fools like the townsfolk in the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, but that if art is what can be said about it, then what about love and life? We are being invited, coersed, into experiencing the world from one step removed, from the perspective of another’s vantage point rather than our own.

and you think if you don’t get it you must be unsophisticated or common.

So while the art world touts itself as the vanguard and cutting edge of correctness, the way its sold means that the answer to the question, ‘what is art?’ can no longer be answered by reference to its content but on how it is presented. The garnish and the chef’s patter is now more important than what you ordered.

and don’t ask for the salt shaker.

What transforms the envy in our story is that Sanji finds meaning in his despair, that it is actually a form of compassion and therefor bearable. The wisdom and kindness of the Magistrate makes sure justice is done without excessively shaming the Baker, who he prybars into the here and now with his, ‘fair is fair.’

It’s said that art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Conceptual art does neither. To be either comforted or disturbed requires feelings. You have to be experiencing something. Conceptual art is opposed to us experiencing anything. Its intention is to prevent experience. Here is my work and this is what it means. Don’t feel, don’t contemplate. Above all don’t reflect on what you’re going to do with your broken mug once you get it home. Or remind yourself what you paid for it.

But in the spirit of pitching in and being a good sport my next submission, having researched the judges carefully, will be a burp. Not an actual ordinary burp you understand but many burps digitally recorded and amalgamated into a Platonic ideal of burps to represent the transcendence of temporal restrictions by eternal ideas, expressing a philological break with post-modern dialectic towards a fully globalist multi-culturalism.

The homogenised burp will then be fed through an electromagnetic spectrograph to emphasise social diversities interpreting inner cities which will then be rendered into a responsibly sourced food dye by undocumented immigrants using ancient skills of pasta making from the heart of Tuscany to create, ad definitum finum, the taste of the colour of the sound of archetypally broken wind.

”We are in a bad situation in the West, we live as decapitated heads. The intellect is indispensible in order to understand but you must feel yourselves to be related to the whole man.” CG Jung

To be fair the fault does not lie with Mrs Chorttle, but with a culture increasingly demanding disposable yet instant gratification that mirrors the provisional way in which we are encouraged to live.

The challenge of our time is to find the perspective of the Magistrate who can be both just and compassionate. He finds a way of engaging the Baker’s perspective, he uses his language and symbols, enters his world without being swallowed up by it. He adds to the Baker’s value system, mirroring the envious man without shaming, insulting or colluding with his dismal world veiw..

I once knew a psychiatric in-patient who’d been very poorly tended, mostly by an uncaring and gamey psychiatrist. One day she shows up for her 20 minutes a fortnight of his god almightiness. He indicates a golfball on his desk announcing, ‘this is an orange…’

‘you peel it, I’ll eat it,’ she replied.






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Psychotherapist/writer/artist/ author of, 'Going Mad to Stay Sane', a psychology of self-destructiveness, about to come into its third edition. Soon to be printed for the first time, 'Abundant Delicious.. the Secret and the Mystery', described by activist Satish Kumar as, ' A Tao of the Soul'. This book documents the archetypal country through which the process of individuation occurs and looks at the trials and tribulations we might expect on the way. In the meantime..... Narcissisim is the issue of our age. This blog looks at how it operates, how it can damage and how we may still fruit despite it.

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