There is a state of excitement about experiencing and/or creating art — literary, visual, musical, or cinematic — that I refer to as being “plugged in.” In this state, which approaches the spiritual, one is moved equally by individual works themselves and by the very fact and possibility of exploration and discovery, present and future.
As with any emotional or quasi-emotional state, it is not possible to be plugged in continuously. The mood is broken by moments of ennui, skepticism, or despair: What’s the point of all this? How can anyone read every book, view every film, hear every piece of music — even in a specific genre — or see every painting, let alone appreciate it all sufficiently? Given the obvious answer to that question, what is the purpose of this constant search?
The point, I would argue, is not to consume the totality of art but to appreciate the totality — that is, the oneness. We can do this, savor the shared essence of all creative pursuit, by discovering the connections between and among different forms. I give a name to this aspect of being plugged in: plugdinism.
Here is an example — the first I can remember encountering. It is from Stanley Crouch’s 1983 Village Voice essay “Body and Soul,” reprinted in Notes of a Hanging Judge. In it Crouch observed the way in which the artist Giotto had upended tradition by focusing on the individual rather than the setting in his paintings. “In his own way,” Crouch wrote, “Louis Armstrong did the same. He discovered that his powers of imagination could stand alone, with the clarinet and the trombone of the conventional New Orleans band silenced, no longer needed to express the intricate and subtle musicality provided by the multilinear antiphonal style.” Crouch, an African-American like Armstrong, went on to write of “relaxing into the thought of how much of my own experience had been clarified by exposure to foreign forms.”
In my own explorations of books, jazz, film, and painting, and in my own writing, I have been on the lookout for such connections between seemingly disparate forms. (See my collection of essays or my essay “Notes on Notes.”)
And what, one might ask in a moment of cold-eyed skepticism, is ultimately the point of all that? Where does this idea lead in the end, except to ridiculous lengths and variations, to a kind of intellectual parlor trick?
The answer is simple. These disparate forms often arise from different cultures, and the connections among them underscore the commonality of the creative impulse — and of all humanity. This is an easy idea to ridicule in 2013. But I am ready to risk what David Foster Wallace called “the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists” to promote it. Plugdinism encourages work in all disciplines exploring links among arts and cultures, for the sake of celebrating our common humanity.