The Artist and Civilization part I.

Listen, they had me on the run, these crazy horsepower fiends; in order to break their insane rhythm, their death rhythm, I had to resort to a wave length which, until I found the proper sustenance in my own bowels, would at least nullify the rhythm they had set up. Certainly I did not need this grotesque, cumbersome, antediluvian desk which I had installed in the parlor; certainly I didn't need twelve empty chairs place around it in a semicirlce; I needed only elbow room in which to write and a thirteenth chair which would take me out of the zodiac they were using and put me in a heaven beyond heaven.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

...And this has been the goal, since forever, the purpose and objective of all bohemians, punks, street professors on Queen and Bathurst on a gritty Winter night;
amid the fires and fights; soft voices and fierce desperate eyes, pupils jumping and crackling like arc-light; dancing with questions... every trainhopper that speaks in ways and honesties unknown to the cities; glaze of sweat mixed with burnt tobacco; to be disappeared in the oncoming sun.
We are trying to break the twelve steps of society, to deny the holy numbers their power. We are shifting loyalties: breaking out of a heaven of duck ponds and alabaster homes to a heaven of our own ecstatic soul. Every bohemian, of which there are many now, knows this purpose. And every damn one of them, at one point or another, has tried on Henry Miller's shoes. To sit at the thirteenth chair, to claim nothing but the elbow-space to work, and to make art as means of advancing the species beyond its present condition. And in redeeming society, of course, you might redeem yourself. When we pulled ourselves out of willful employment: when we defined ourselves beyond work's capacity for actualization, and either went to it with a head full of secrets or just busted out entirely, we couldn't just let our lives become the means and end of our existence. Art was the end, at once a postcard to the existing society-- because they couldn't miss us if they didn't know we were gone, could they?-- and also the redefinition of our lives.
This is the crux of it: civilizations leave what after their passing? Vast amounts of legal tender, of use to no-one but the nomads who burn it for kindling. Concrete ruins to be inherited by the jungle. Ornately-decorated corpses, which as we all know stink like cinnamon. As they stink, a dead language on the wall boasts our leaders' and gods' immortality. What bollocks.
We have escaped these anxious assertions of immortality. The church, the government, business all chew up 8 to 14 hours a day warding off extinction. Their eyes never focus over the shoulders of their next challenge. In this way they never have to confront the sorry fate of their predecessors. Like the child who insists he will never grow up, they leave unsaid their certainty that their god, finally, will be the one that enjoys eternal supremacy. They might be right, of a fashion: physicists believe that every wave of our hand gives birth to new universes in the twelth dimension, bubble-thin and infinite. They exist as the vertical white scratches on the film of this life, dancing along to the racket of the projector. Somewhere Zeus rules over a universe the size of a high school gym locker. But infinite, natch. Jesus, your locker awaits.
But artists have seen through these illusions. The other measure of a civilization, besides the majesty of its garbage, is the culture that it leaves behind. Gods are eventually relegated to their pet universes, but the Homers and Ciceros live on. The servants outgrow their masters. And if our civilization can't provide joy or hope in immediate present, because it certainly can't, it can at least be civilized in its great works, in its hindsight. And one of us, from the colony of artists, may yet be the one to outlive our cruel gods. William S. Burroughs was probably our latest pharaoh.
And what does it get us? The libraries fill up with treasure, prepared and ready for this world's armageddon. Its similarities to the Federal Reserve are shocking: already it is touched with ghosts and dust and echoing footsteps. This civilization gets richer and richer in commodities-- those objects regarded so quaintly by future tomb robbers. Hell, compact discs don't even burn that well, and leave a nasty taste on the meat. The urge to create, driven by contempt for the finite gods of religion, wealth and power is, in fact, borne of the same death anxiety as they are. It is a little more clear-headed and far-seeing, yes. But in the end it is powered by the same compulsion to stockpile, to maximize a completely arbitrary wealth-value. How much art are we going to need, anyway?


At 1:38 p.m., Blogger Robert said...

oh wow

GREAT fucking rant! and extremely well-written, Eric

this is the best thing ive read of yours


(Ive begun organizing a reading at Uprising/Last Temptation on January 12th...i hope you can read this--and part 2--there...if you cant make it, im gonna read it....cool?)

At 2:15 p.m., Blogger eric said...

rob, i will read this for you if you like. combined w/ part II might be a mouthful, plus some other... components of it might be incompatible.
Jan 12? i am. marking it. in my calendar... wait, hold on...


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