The Artist and Civilization part II.

But to be the monster and the pathologist at the same time-- that is reserved for certain species of men(sic) who, disguised as artists, are supremely aware that sleep is an even greater danger than insomnia. In order not to fall asleep, in order not to become victims of that insomnia which is called 'living', they resort to the drug of putting words together endlessly. ...I wanted to be wide awake without talking or writing about it, in order to accept life absolutely.
Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn

There is something not quite sane about the bohemian's insistence on writing those postcards to civilization from Henry Miller's thirteenth chair. It is as if we cast off the norms and compulsions of the old society, because we finally see them as absurd in the face of the eternal. In our isolation, we become purified by the fires of our own essential spirit. In a fit of ecstasy, we plunge into the forest. Standing at its edge, we continue to wave at the watchtowers of civilization. 'So long! This is where we are now!' The watchtower guard lowers his binoculars and reports to command. Yes, he's still there. Yes, he's still waving. It's been twenty-two days now. Yes, he's still screaming out his pity for the 'sheep.' The guard is under strict orders to give the bohemian some hot cocoa when he comes back in. Thoreau received more visitors in his exile at Walden than he did in town. He was the lucky one: nobody much cares about the colonies of exiles anymore; nobody comes a-knocking to see what we have learned. In the watchtower they wait. And for each of those bohemians, cast into the fires of their own spirit, the rewards of wicked civilization still beckon: to become the next Thoreau, the next Burroughs, the next Henry Miller. We are all too prepared to accept our role as producers of cultural value, of cultural redemption. We are all too prepared to accept standard notions of success. We trade the context of our lives, our rebellion and exclusion for greater exposure to our art. Even the most politically-aware of us trade context for exposure, and believe that our words become more valuable the farther they are spread. Punk bands, given the opportunity, give in to major label success. 'Well', they reason, 'if we can reach more people with our message, maybe that is our contribution to a better world.'
This belief stems from our traditional view of art as objects that stand and operate under their own power. Moreover, art as commodity, infused with all the fetish-power that that entails. In the absence of the original context, the music of the punk band is redefined by its status as a commodity. Through reproduction, the message of 'Kick Out The Jams Motherfucker!' finds itself to be a poster on the subway, a plastic disc at the mall, an organization of electrons on television, a billboard transfixed over the sky. The context of the art is no longer its birth outside of civilization, forged in the imagination of the free individual (if there is such a thing), but in its surroundings-- in the pseudo-eternality of capitalism. In this way it loses its opportunity to transcend the false gods. Its life is but thirty seconds long, a blink of an eye cut between CNN and a sitcom rerun. This is the repressive desublimation of Herbert Marcuse, but it cuts much deeper than even he imagined.
Since Marcuse's time, the frontiers of culture have collapsed into a singularity: the internet. Imagine it: once, inside the bus shelter on the way to work, you found a photocopied pamphlet decrying the emptiness of modern life and attributing it to the absence of space aliens. The last page, speckled with dirt, urges you to watch the skies on May 14th, 1993 for the return of our life-giving cosmic visitors. The power of the message, false or not, is inescapable.
Presently this group has a website as canny as any other. Their messageboard is full of abuse and ridicule and bible scripture, which is itself as meaningless as any other message could be in this context.
The perceptions of civilization have been increased by the internet: its omniscience is taken for granted. And yet the equation, of exposure as the inverse to context holds. Everyone has the capacity of infinite and immediate exposure, and the only context left is a cathode-ray tube. It is tacitly understood that we are all online, sitting at our places, on the electrical grid and at cable's length to a telephone jack. And if we are all getting stranger and stranger in our tastes and fetishes, the frontiers of strangeness have already been colonized by cannyness. In fact pop-culture hipsters celebrate the lack of context, the absurd, the banality of their 'discoveries' on the internet. No matter what the message, the medium reduces it to an electronic yawn. And hence artistry reaches the limits of our public imagination. The bohemian, waving from his edge of the forest, finds himself finally alone. The guard in the watchtower has lost interest, is surfing the web, browsing without much interest a bestiality website. The bohemian lowers his arm and begins to hear the howling of wind through trees, an inhuman sound if there ever was one. He shivers. It is expected that by tomorrow he will be blogging from the nearest public library.
I find this very depressing. I need to believe that the forest contains witches in hand-hewn cabins. I need to believe every freight train has its hobo. I need to believe in the ounce of truth in every schizophrenic screed. But this means that some individuals will have to eschew their stab at immortality, will have to accept their roles as ghosts. To not be an artist demands the greatest sacrifice: it accepts the mortality of the false gods of civilization, and it accepts the death of the false god of the artist. It means we must invent a culture that is once and for all off the grid-- not meant to be reproduced, but to be not seen at all. For example:
figure 1.

figure 2.

figure 3.


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