Ex Libris Nihilo

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The reading room of my favorite library ever, at Duke University.

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In case you can’t see it, the translation is: “Immortality is not everyone’s thing.” —Kurt Schwitters

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I want to talk something into existence. That something is an ‘art-wing think-tank,’ and it need be no more than you and I and one other. What would it do? Well, it would write policy papers for state and federal arts-funding bodies; it would lobby for the aesthetic integrity of the commonwealth before big-money advertisers and bottom-feeding spam-spewers turn our feed to dirty grey sour-gummy slime. But that would come later.

Its first mandate would be to set up an archive, physical and digital, built to receive, preserve and index the life’s work of anyone who has labored under the yoke of artistic ambition, especially those lone souls who lack the gumption or the social niceties to sell themselves as authors, painters, cartoonists, musicians, or whatever. Personally, I would like to include scrapbookers and listmakers, bloggers and fan-fiction devotees. The cost seems cheap (except if the life’s work in question includes a spiral jetty, or an aircraft carrier lined in fur) and the potential rewards for posterity are unfathomable. By which I mean, it could be a welcome bounty of busywork no one wants, or it could be a crucial core sample of abundant humanity autofellating its congenital mediocrity under a seedbed of common uniqueness.

No matter; our archive’s worthy mandate stands because it affirms our valuation of human endeavor. For too long, too much of us has been given to the landfill of disregard. If but one person cultivated the impossible hope of immortality, we should embrace their sacred scraps with a catholic inclusivity. But our scholars will not simply give a gold star to every ouevre it assimilates; a rigorous localized assessment of value will mark its debut, and this critical, hierarchical score may well go unchallenged for the life of our institution. We would guarantee only that the work in our care be shepherded into dim futurity with as much care as we can muster; a rigorous face forward with regards to the ever-shifting refinement of format would, in fact, provide most of the daily work of the place.

You may feel free to read into this proposal all the insecure ego of this writer. I admit to my frustrated ambition and own that although my forty-four years have impressed upon me the insignificance of my dutiful ministrations in service of a contorted truth, I would yet rather die with the silly hope that, though my coevals may not feel me, their grandchildren may well flock to my side and canonize my anachronistic genius. I am well aware, as well, that the life I write for myself will admit no apprehension that is not fundamentally punitive. But enough about me.

I.O.U.evre? Posterity on demand? The tomb of the unknown artist?

An unrelated idea: Venus of Dorfongolf.

See? Ideas like that should live forever (in infamy, of course).

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Portrait of the Artist as an Artist’s Statement

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“Childhood’s Garden” by Charles Burchfield. I had this print hanging in my room as a teen.

Culture is the flowering of the effort to select. Selection means rejection, pruning, cleansing; the clear and naked emergence of the Essential. — Le Corbusier, Towards A New Architecture

  1. The market for tools and materials used for creative endeavors has more growth potential than the market for art. The cult of the unique artifact will continue to retain value; any twentieth-century item already in place will price itself out of individual collections, losing fluidity beneath a crippling insurance overhead. Machine-made forgeries will make a mockery of the museum charter, but no one will care because geographical bias will be as moot as mortgages by then.
  2. As we welcome ourselves into a world wherein all of us are artists of sorts, dilettantes of all media, we will begin to reap the rewards of our disastrous profligacy. We will contrive a global lingua franca which will be the sum of all our art histories—a gesamtkunstwerk that engages all the senses will supplant our impoverished single-channel narrative tongues.
  3. Gameplay abstracted is the music of thought. Chess teaches us to see in flux that which sits motionless within a grid. We learn that to dance within architectural constraints may bind us bodily but also unmoors our motile souls from the tidal brackwaters of diurnal drudgery.
  4. Suetonius was a Roman writer who gave us all the dirt on ‘The Lives of the Twelve Caesars.‘ Robert Graves was a poetic historian who breathed dignity into the bones of the emperor Claudius, who stammered and was thereby underestimated. The BBC’s dramatization of Graves’ two Claudius novels was the best thing on television until their next best thing, ‘The Singing Detective’ by Dennis Potter. Graves’ Augustus was assisted in his largely benevolent machinations of power by his wife, Livia, who just couldn’t stop herself from poisoning those who crossed her or her husband. ‘Poison is queen,’ the graffiti pundits asserted. Courtney Love loved ‘I, Claudius,’ and wrote it into her rider, I’d wager, that she was never to go without it while on tour. David Chase based Tony Soprano’s mother on his own problematic mother, but gave the character the name ‘Livia,’ openly acknowledging the influence in his creation of the first masterpiece of American television, ‘The Sopranos.’
  5. The Sopranos‘ mesmerized its audience to the extent that its central figure was a moving target. We couldn’t predict his behaviors, even if his reactions played with transparent ease across his features and his body language was a primer on alpha-male swag. He was inscrutable; a hollow, holographic null space whose shape we could only infer by his reactions to the various antagonists who ran dizzy passes around his gravity well. The American audience was troubled by the proximity of the monstrous to the familiar and the familial. ‘The problem of evil’ is topographical, and only requires an imagination to resolve. We are all capable of the most hideous acts of cruelty against those we love, or those we don’t even know; and those acts don’t preclude a life of otherwise sanguine, gentle grace.

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    from Fellini Satyricon, based upon a fragmentary Roman novel

  6. There is an artifact of language at work here, muddying the discourse. Gore Vidal understood its significance, and was not merely being slippery when he made the distinction between saying,’I am a homosexual’ and ‘I have engaged in a homosexual act.’ Branding yourself into a demographic based upon a single act or a lifetime of single acts makes you an easier consumer to target. Understand, however, that we are all far more suggestible than we’d like to believe, and so just saying the words, ‘I’m a Gore Vidal fanatic’ smooths out some willful edge of you which would otherwise be inclined to challenge Mr. Vidal on some arguing point, the next book of his you devour. (Rest in peace, Mr. Vidal; you were our Suetonius and more.)
  7. Other television shows which turn upon the centrifuge of a problematic singularity of self include: House, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boss, Nurse Jackie… (If you can think of more, please illuminate me!) In a world grown increasingly narrow, our most human of human frailties are pathologized and criminalized; our most difficult, deepest wells of nonverbal, chthonian yearning find their chemical foil in pharmaceutical form. I posit no value judgment. There is a greater good that obviates the human greater good, and the age of the individual has already passed its apogee; it’s still just possible to wrest an interesting life from the Jaws of fate’s banal Summer Blockbuster, but our sentient attention isn’t essential anymore. Let’s take this moment while no one’s paying us any mind and use it for its least probable capacity.
  8. Genius states the obvious no one’s yet noticed. Duh.
  9. When someone says, ‘I’m an artist,’ they are signing themselves up for a daily awareness of living that has, as its principal premise. a lively engagement to the notion that change is the inverse of death. The artist’s Hippocratic oath is: ‘First, do not bore.’
  10. This blog will be an arena within which aesthetics will be autopsied without the use of anaesthetics.