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The Big Fish. Consciousness as Structure, Body and Space

by Anna Bonshek
Rodopi, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2007
396 pp., illus. Trade, $118.65
ISBN: 13: 978-90-420-2172.

Reviewed by Rob Harle
University of New England


The term "Big Fish" is a metaphor used by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which "…refers to the self-referral dynamics of pure consciousness and its expression into sound and form." That is, from the infinite ocean of consciousness an individual may become the "big fish" by, "witnessing the mechanics of one’s infinite awareness as the creative play on the unmanifest level of consciousness" (xi).

This book concerns consciousness, art, and art practice. Specifically, consciousness from the perspective of "…the foremost authority of consciousness [?], Maharishi Mahesh Yogi" (xi). Maharishi has established an academy, observatory, and a discipline known as Maharishi Vedic Science. This is based on the ancient wisdom of the Vedas and uses Transcendental Meditation and advanced technologies of consciousness to help individuals gain enlightenment.

The Big Fish: Consciousness as Structure, Body and Space is arranged into two parts. Part One: Infinite Mind /Infinite Body: Awakening and Re-envisioning Consciousness is written by Anna Bonshek. Chapter 1 through Chapter 6 develop in a progressive way as Bonshek defines consciousness according to Maharishi and the Vedic Literature. Part Two: Expressions, Visions, Perspectives is written by different authors, together with Anna Bonshek and explores different art practices and works of art by international artists which, whilst not all specifically Vedic orientated, "...do explore a broad consciousness-orientated perspective" (xv). These essays present various viewpoints and most have been previously published as articles in journals. There is a useful Glossary of Sanskrit terms and an excellent Bibliography, and the book has numerous black & white illustrations, particularly in Part Two. The book is well written, highly readable, and explains well the various concepts of consciousness, which by their very nature are complex and generally difficult. There are, perhaps, too many quotes for my liking, the use of which Bonshek defends; these are mainly from the master, Maharishi.

This book as previously mentioned approaches art and consciousness from the Vedic tradition which believes consciousness to be, "an infinite field of intelligence at the basis of all forms of existence". This belief is diametrically opposed to the Western scientific approach that sees consciousness basically as an epiphenomenon of the brain, or being charitable, the brain-body system. If prospective readers subscribe to the scientific understanding, they will probably find the book somewhat irritating, as it really is a sort of truncated course or extended lecture in Maharishi Vedic Science. However, if the reader has an open mind, or believes in the "consciousness as infinite field" notion, I’m sure they will find the book of great interest and, particularly for artists, inspirational.

The Vedic understanding of consciousness is an infinite field of intelligence; this infinite field is, "…accessible to human awareness, being the very nature of mind and the structuring dynamics of the physiology––from the DNA, to the cell, tissues, organs, and to the whole body and its sophisticated functioning" (back cover). By implication this means that all things we do, from designing structures to producing art in its many guises, should incorporate the design principles of universal Vedic truth. This, according to Maharishi, will make them more efficacious in their use and enable them to resonate with the whole universe, rather than being idiosyncratic, egocentric creations based on universal ignorance. As such, Modernism and Postmodernism are critically discussed in various sections of the book, as an example, Chapter 12 discusses an art work Reverie I from a Deleuzian Sensation and Unbounded Consciousness perspective. Chapter 8 outlines a proposal for a Socially Responsible College Art Curriculum.

At around 400 pages the book packs in a lot of information, describes some very interesting artworks, and, I think, provides a considerable challenge to many current art practices and their resultant artworks that seem banal and lacking any universal validity at all. If the book does no more than this, then the publication will be well worth the effort. However, the price tag of around $120, which I find exorbitant (there are no colour plates or illustrations), may prohibit access to the book for many students and general interest readers.



Updated 1st September 2007

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