Reimagining Guernica to Engage the Antitheses of a Cancel Culture


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens - TRANSCEND Media Service

Coherence in the Surreal as a Kaleidoscope of Imagery Forming a Hyperobject


7 Feb 2022 – Multiple perspectives: There is no lack of commentary and explanation with regard to the surreal nature of the current times (Surreal nature of current global governance as experienced, 2016). Emphasis is commonly placed on the pervasive sense of meaninglessness — with various parties to be appropriately blamed. The pattern has been most recently exemplified by the worldwide media attention given to the extraordinary saga surrounding the participation of Novak Djokovic in the Australian Tennis Open — and its dramatic final prevention by the Australian government (Australian Open organisers ‘deeply regret’ Novak Djokovic saga, Al Jazeera, 18 January 2022; Binoy Kampmark, Dangerous Precedents and Hypothetical Threats: the deportation of Novak Djokovic, Australian Independent Media, 17 January 2022).

The value of recognizing a complex of “antitheses” is usefully indicated by the following examples cited by the Cambridge Dictionary:

  • Institutions and human actions, complements and antitheses, are forever remaking each other in the endless drama of the social process.
  • Yet the antitheses ostensibly at stake in this process are themselves complicated and deceptive.
  • They posited metaphysical intervention, spiritualism, imagination, and elitism as the antitheses to sweeping rationalism, simplification, and mass culture
  • Ideally, such awareness should lead to a more mature ranking of the values and antitheses which went into its making.
  • Now, how are all these curious antitheses to be explained?
  • Too often it is conducted in terms of unbridgeable opposites, false antitheses and exaggerated choices.
  • Extreme theses and antitheses garner more attention, increase citation rates, and sell books.

In a period of crisis of crises the pattern evokes the question of how to perceive any crisis — through what images it may be variously framed, as considered separately (Interrelating Multiple Ways of Looking at a Crisis: beyond the pandemic discipline of the one right way, 2021). Given the cognitive challenge any  crisis clearly constitutes, it could be argued that conventional images and metaphors may be totally inadequate — if not dangerously misleading.

“Something” radically distinctive would appear to be required if any solution is to avoid being a feature of the problem. One inspiration in that regard is the role that has been played by the bombing of Guernica as a tragedy of the not-so-distant past — commemorated through the symbolic significance attributed to it through the much-cited painting by Pablo Picasso (Guernica, 1937).

Shifting perspective: The painting is regarded by many as the most moving and powerful anti-war painting in history. Appropriate to the nature of the cognitive challenge, interpretations of Guernica vary widely and contradict one another (T. J. Clark, Picasso and Truth: from Cubism to Guernica, 2013). As indicated in one commentary:

The genius of Guernica is that it successfully combines dreamlike (some might say nightmarish) elements of Surrealism with the multiple-perspectives of Cubism. It was a shocking painting, both for its modern, Cubist style and for its haunting subject matter. (Guernica by Pablo Picasso, EmptyEasel)

As an exemplar of Cubist artwork, the bombing of Guernica as an “object” is analyzed in the painting — broken up and reassembled in an abstracted form. Instead of depicting its elements as from a single viewpoint, Picasso depicts the subject from a multitude of viewpoints to represent the subject in a larger context. This implies a paradoxical aperspectival perspective as potentially the most relevant — and fundamental to any reimagined Guernica.

Cubism has been considered the most influential art movement of the 20th century (Steven Gambardella, How Cubism Changed The Way We See The World: a history of Cubism and why it’s important, The Sophist, 13 January 2019). It has framed the challenge of coherently interrelating a kaleidoscope of imagery, perhaps to be understood as a hyperimage (Felix Thürlemann, More than One Picture: an art history of the hyperimage, Getty Publications, 2019)

Reimagining Guernica as a hyperobject: Given the cognitive challenge the painting is so widely held to address, it could then be asked whether there is a case for imagining a “Guernica” appropriately indicative of the tragedy of the cancel culture of the current period and its complex of antitheses. All are under threat of being annihilated by an other. Each may well experience life in terms described as kafkaesque or entrapped in a Catch-22 situation.

Would a reimagined Guernica be sufficient as a static image in 2D, or do the advances in information presentation imply that the imagination needs to be engaged otherwise, and to a higher degree — dynamically in 3D or 4D, for example? Is some form of hypnotic quality a necessity, given the power exerted by the crisis imagery currently disseminated by the media?

Rather than as an image readily imagined in conventional terms, is such an image better understood as a “hyperobject” — whatever that may now be deemed to indicate? (Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: philosophy and ecology after the End of the World, University of Minnesota Press, 2013;  Hyperobjects: an excerpt,; Introducing the Idea of ‘Hyperobjects’: a new way of understanding climate change and other phenomena, High Country News, 19 January 2015)

Discussed further below, they have been held to be entities of such vast temporal and spatial dimensions in relation to human life that they defeat traditional ideas about what is indicated. Examples include global warming, a black hole, or the biosphere (Elizabeth Grace Boulton Climate change as a ‘hyperobject’: a critical review of Timothy Morton’s reframing narrative, Wiley interdisciplinary reviews: Climate Change, 7, 2016, 5).

As yet to be explored is the manner in which hyperobjects might clash and how this might be experienced. The scope of such dynamics in an information society recalls commentary on the clash of galaxies in the universe — and hence, potentially  to be understood as hyperobjects — the appropriateness of the title of Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations (1996).

Anti-otherness: The original Guernica is upheld as an articulation of anti-war insight. In a cancel culture there is no lack of problematic concern with the threat of other expressions of “anti” — if not of otherness in general — as explored separately (Elaborating a Declaration on Combating Anti-otherness — including anti-science, anti-spiritual, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-socialism, anti-animal, and anti-negativity, 2018).

An obvious example for many at this time is the perspective of “anti-vaxxers” — highlighted as a primary concern in the Djokovic saga in relation to the Australian Tennis Open. In the same period the attitude has been emphasized by declarations by iconic figures, curiously ignoring highly deprecated historical processes with which such advocacy can be readily compared:

The original tragedy of Guernica took the form of aerial bombing of civilians in the cultural capital of the Basque people during the Spanish Civil War (Harry Blain, Guernica and the perversion of the Spanish Civil War, Open Democracy, 3 May 2017). It was carried out at the behest of Francisco Franco’s rebel Nationalist faction by its allies, the Nazi German Luftwaffe’s Condor Legion and the Fascist Italian Aviazione Legionaria. Seen as a war crime by some historians, and argued as a legitimate attack by others, it was one of the first aerial bombings to capture global attention.

Systemically interpreted with respect to its relevance at this time, who can be controversially recognized as “nationalists”? What is the modern equivalent in an information-based society of “aerial bombing” of global import? What minority culture, characterized by a little-known “language”, bears comparison with the Basque civilians? For which “nationalists” are you a “Basque” — and for whom are you a “nationalist”?

Elusive aesthetic coherence: As a hyperobject, any coherence a reimagined Guernica might then offer is necessarily elusive — implied rather than readily graspable (Engaging with Elusive Connectivity and Coherence: global comprehension as a mistaken quest for closure, 2018). As with the original, there is a fundamental shift to an otherwise impossible reconciliation of disparate elements — one that is only enabled and given credibility through aesthetics. It is beyond the conventions of rational explanation, as with the controversy evoked by the Cubist original.

This aesthetic shift — as a form of paradigm shift — is consistent with that long considered necessary for the comprehension of the most fundamental characteristics of nature whose complexity could be appropriately assumed to be as great as human life and psychosocial organization:

  • Niels Bohr as a physicist:
    • We must be clear that when it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry. The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images and establishing mental connections.
  • Richard Feynman as a physicist, renowned for his engagement with drumming:
  • Gregory Bateson in recognizing the importance of poetry in dealing with complexity:
    • One reason why poetry is important for finding out about the world is because in poetry a set of relationships get mapped onto a level of diversity in us that we don’t ordinarily have access to. We bring it out in poetry. We can give to each other in poetry the access to a set of relationships in the other person and in the world that we’re not usually conscious of in ourselves. So we need poetry as knowledge about the world and about ourselves, because of this mapping of complexity to complexity. (cited by Mary Catherine Bateson, Our Own Metaphor; a personal account of a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation, 1972)

The evocation of an aesthetic perspective and the connectivity it offers frames the question of the “translation” it may imply, as explored by Harri Mäcklin (When art transports us, where do we actually go? Aeon/Psyche, 11 January 2022). It is therefor most surprising to note that some recent thinking of quantum physicists has addressed the cognitive challenges it poses through QBism (Quantum Bayesianism). Proncounced “cubism” this could be understood as reinforcing the appropriateness of the quest for a reimagined Guernica.

Invasive entanglement — cognitive stickiness: More challenging, and associated with its hypnotic quality, is the cognitive entanglement of any observer — or any effort at dissociated observation. As expressed by Kenneth Boulding:

Our consciousness of the unity of the self in the middle of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity of a group, organization, department, discipline, or science. If personification is only a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors – we might be one ourselves. (Ecodynamics; a new theory of societal evolution, 1978)

In a context of promotional hyperbole, how indeed to manage that relation with a hyperobject — especially when the natural tendency is to have recourse to explanatory tools which preclude insight of requisite dimensionality? More problematic is the degree to which a hyperobject is aggressively invasive — effectively promoted persuasively as a feature of the media by which it is advertised. Technically this can be recognized in the requisite proactive stickiness of clickbait with its cognitively seductive dimensions.

Seen in this light any hyperobject frames the question as to when any “object” can be recognized as a weapon. How might a hyperobject be weaponized as an instrument of memetic warfare or in framing the arena of such warfare? Such questions are indicative of the ambiguity of any understanding of it as a static “neutral” object. Paradoxically, in reimagining Guernica, such ambiguity is itself indicative of the aggressive dynamics potentially associated with “anti-” — a paradox most fruitfully indicated by Eastern understandings of martial arts celebrated in haiku poetry (Ensuring Strategic Resilience through Haiku Patterns: reframing the scope of the “martial arts” in response to strategic threats, 2006).

The hypnotic quality can also be explored as an attractor. In effect a hyperobject merits recognition in the language of complexity as a “strange attractor”. How does the Cubist painting “work” cognitiviely in this respect? What kind of experiental “shock and awe” is required of a reimagined Guernica? Far more speculatively, any understanding of the dynamics of a hyperobject as a wormhole is indicative of the sense in which it is imagined as offering a gateway or portal for travel to other parts of the knowledge universe.

In a cancel culture in which everything can be called into question — including any hypothesis with regard to a hyperobject — envisaging the design of a new Guernica can be usefully inspired by that of ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), as discussed  below and separately (Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor, 2006). There the challenge is the design of a physical container for a form of matter capable of destroying the container itself

The focus here on a catalytic “form” is partly inspired by the arguments of Johan Galtung elaborated in the Forms of Presentation sub-project of the United Nations University project on Goals, Processes and Indicators of Human Development, as discussed separately (Forms of Presentation and the Future of Comprehension, 1984).



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