As I’ve aged, I’ve taken backward glances at my works. Like other artists also may do while time passes, this looking back required me to realise that some of my works are more redoubtable than others. What is the insufficiency in some of my works and in some works that I admire by others that I am left imagining to myself how they might have been stronger? I’ve been mulling on this question and have come up with a concept of the ‘unsaid’—an unsaid that is a potent inner source for making art, a source independent from ‘being artist’. The unsaid resides in all human beings and it yearns to manifest itself in ways beyond art, too.
The unsaid is what transcends our psychological and socio-cultural ways of responding to the surfaces of our present-day world realities. In other words, it transcends our normal consciousness. Because of this, it is a potent inner source for creativity by anyone. If and when we can access it, our perception of different realities changes and may help make our lives and our arts better than they often are.
As humans, we happily cross many boundaries and territories outside ourselves (cities, countries, race, gender, disciplines and so on). As well, we cross many territories inside ourselves. The territories inside ourselves, in a socio-psychological framework, could be considered as different realms of our ‘psyche’. However, I am specifically declining a psychological interpretation for where the unsaid may reside within ourselves. I’m doing so because while the unsaid is a realm inside ourselves, I believe it is not part of our usual psyche that has its own conscious and unconscious compartments and beliefs. I’ll return to this below.
The territories outside ourselves and the events they carry before us are richly filled with symbols that hold common meaning for communication within communities (symbols such as the colour red, trees, a person’s face, mathematical formulae, a flag, a triangle, loaf of bread). We learn from these and they influence what we think and how we act, and so what we become. Meanwhile, the psychic energies of the territories inside ourselves are absorbing and sorting and moving these symbols around unceasingly and as necessary for the sake of our personal psychological survival, by giving us ideas and ways to act in the world, including making art.
However, the realm of the unsaid while being within us is ‘outside’ of our normal streams of awareness, although particular events of life may fleetingly kindle glimpses of it. The unsaid is the realm of our ontological consciousness. Our normal, focused consciousness easily keeps us from noticing our ontological consciousness. Yet it is the latter that forms the very nature of our being. The unsaid of our ontological consciousness is beyond personal past, beyond narrative, beyond personal sentiment, although of course these aspects inform our ontology, our being, and our morals. However, for various reasons (habit, fear, starvation, suppression, etcetera) few dare or are able to pay attention to the realm of their unsaid. And no one of us can enter or even speculate upon another’s unsaid.
The unsaid is where particular and personal symbols, ones to which our perceptions have attached acutely with a meaning that is yet unformed and undeveloped, come to rest. Such symbols and events in the realm of the unsaid are unique to each of us. No one else could conceive what breadth of meanings and feelings they carry for us. When such symbols (for example, this tree and no other, a certain doe, a look on this face, the touch of this wind’s breath, the sound of this grenade) embed themselves in the realm of our unsaid they are not easily remembered and may be forgotten entirely. Yet such symbols lodge in us (mentally, bodily, and spiritually) so firmly and subtly that they form an existence-tissue of our being that we may not experience is there. As time passes, hopefully they mature into becoming and then into expression. The unsaid is foundational for ontological consciousness.
Ontological consciousness or awareness is not a philosophical choice. It is a state of consciousness made possible by experiencing and interpretively locating the limits of autobiography and history. ‘An ontic journey begins with an experience of foreignness … continues … surrenders to a resonance of place and others …’ (Ronald Silvers, in his book A Pause on the Path). Ontological consciousness allows arriving at a knowledge of relatedness which supersedes material places and objects. It is founded on an awareness of the limits of one’s self and culture, a recognition that does not obscure our psychic and social territories and their boundaries, but which places each in conjunctive relation with what becomes unsaid and, too often, remains unsaid. The perception necessary for accessing what is unsaid within us is an act of completion, one that is in alliance with all sides of whatever it experiences, some of which will find its way into the unsaid. Its perception of all symbols (and events) is without perspective.
Would such an awareness allow the world to be understood by us as pure statement, and would it lead to an integral truth that is free of subject, free of object, and that sustains the truth of the whole? I don’t know. I hope so. I especially note that, in situations that cause grievous and appalling suffering and loss, the reflective equilibrium which examines moral judgements and works back and forth between different beliefs toward justice can be founded on a non-perspectival truth of the whole. Accessing our personal unsaid is crucial for our self-growth. But we live in a context of collective experience. Thus, what is unsaid affects us individually and collectively. If we could acknowledge the unsaid within ourselves more widely, would it change us and our societies for the better, beyond what the determinism and rationalism of our ‘Western’ traditions have been able to manage?
I do know that the most powerful works of art, historically and today (in whatever medium and by either amateurs or professionals) are powerful because those who have made them, individually or by collective, have wittingly or unwittingly accessed something that before was unsaid by them. Further, I have witnessed the unsaid moving in graffiti and street art and, yes, in street marches that didn’t politically handicap themselves.
My writings and visual works cross genres. I have often been told I paint with words, writing being my principal practice. Thus, I close with a word-painting of the unsaid, a possible human unsaid as I wish it could mature into becoming. I, myself, am still learning and trying to be braver about what, for now, I can only glimpse in my own unsaid.
the unsaid is large, larger than the silence that surrounds it // it is the reparative sounds that should descend into our world // but are left unsaid // like foam-born whispers of love left unsaid // and so, we remain unknown // like forgiving replies to words that lash us // and so, we are bent in old age // like revelations of being that allow us to continue // else we die hard // like our internal darkness that holds our unsteady secrets // and so, we become……………………………
Vivian Darroch-Lozowski works across scholarly and literary writing, creative nonfiction, artist books, drawing and film. Her most recent book is The Uncoded World (1999). Her first book, Voice of Hearing (1984), was re-issued last year. She lives in Moose Jaw, Canada, on Treaty Four Territory, territories of the Cree, Salteaux, Dakota, Lakota, and Nakoda, and the homeland of the Métis/Michif Nation. She is Professor Emerita of the University of Toronto.