Ex Libris Nihilo


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


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


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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