Unreal Nature

September 4, 2017

Suspicion, Once You Let It Start, Gnaws Down to Your Very Last Bit of Hope

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Don’t you feel the powerlessness of avant-garde art to elicit indignation from a society that is too liberal but still not free enough, too eager to mask conflict behind pluralism and too anxious to clothe its consent for cultural illiteracy in the rags of dissidence?

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… For some, [Duchamp’s urinal] has not stopped being the harbinger of the happy day when art will finally fall from its pedestal and belong to everyone; for others, it remains the source of resentment and fear of the day when, everything become art, nothing will be art any longer; and for all of us — in our society where consensus is either incomprehensible or impossible — it is still an object of dissent revealing our common plight.

[line break added] In conclusion, Duchamp’s urinal wields the disquieting proof of art’s alienation that seems definitive to those who read it as evidence of decadence, provisional to those who see it as the premise of renewal, and necessary to those for whom the faculty of negating is what, in the end, promises emancipation.

… But aren’t you distressed by the reified negativity of this ready-made urinal, now that it is piously preserved like an icon? Aren’t you concerned that the dialectical equation of art and anti-art might have congealed into a perverse tautology, now that even the middle class collects its products? Aren’t you bored by the phoniness of a good part of Duchamp’s legacy?

[line break added] Don’t you feel the powerlessness of avant-garde art to elicit indignation from a society that is too liberal but still not free enough, too eager to mask conflict behind pluralism and too anxious to clothe its consent for cultural illiteracy in the rags of dissidence? If you have not yet started to despair about the practical value of your theories, you must really have fled to another planet. Either you are already there, with the philosophers of resentment and the historians of decline who like to watch Rome burn from a distance, or you are in the takeoff lounge with the modern utopianists and no longer within range of the noise coming from the burning metropolis.

[line break added] Or else, perhaps, you persist in not seeing that the main body of the army has never followed the avant-garde; that the motor of contradiction is exhausted; that the step from creative negation to nihilism has been taken; that around anti-art, the impossible consensus has nonetheless been reached out of indifference, and that it is inevitable that suspicion, once you let it start, gnaws down to your very last bit of hope.

[line break added] But if, on the other hand, you despair enough about art, if the feeling of the vanity of anti-art brings you to a point of remembering that the irony of the urinal was baptized by Duchamp “ironism of affirmation,” then perhaps you will go all the way beyond suspicion and realize that, in your engagement with the avant-garde, you were not mistaken about practice but rather only about theory.

… The skeptical disenchantment that led you to abandon the illusions of outsideness, metalanguage, and disinterestedness certainly offer great intellectual benefits, but they do us a wrong. Your commitment, your attention to that common accord and above all that common discord, through which we call art what we call art, has led you, like it or not, to speak in our name for all of us. This us is an abuse and an alibi. You will have to start all over again.

My most recent previous post from de Duve’s book is here.

-Julie

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