Sunday, June 1, 2008

Disarticulating Art for Art's Sake

Dear George,

The well ordered state is one that marginalizes art. Plato knew whereof he spoke when he banned poets from his Republic. The poet inspires, and all too often, this inspiration becomes the soil in which the seeds of rebellion and revolution germinate.

Art grows in the clammy cracks that form on a nation’s fringe where, like a fungus, it takes root and begins to spread its toxins throughout polite society. The successful leader of the corporatist state is he who can neutralize Art before it becomes dangerous

And Art is neutralized when the moment the fringe is commodified. In this, America has been more than successful. One writer laments, “We’ve seen the best minds of our generation destroyed by madness, as Alan Ginsberg put it. The madness of materialism—owning things, possessing things, caressing things in a world or shrinking resources, “peak oil,” water shortages, food riots.”

Things, not thoughts, that’s the answer.

Nothing corrupts the artist faster than the grant and the sinecure. Let our artists earn big bucks for creating esoteric works that define space rather than meaning and our stability is assured.

Concurrent with the commodification of the fringe is the dumbing down of our language. The key weapon in this campaign is the simple sentence consisting of no more than one byte of data that is devoid of nuance and metaphor. Both compound and complex sentences must be consigned to the dust bin; the monosyllabic word must rule!

Literacy endangers. A literate society is one that is exposed to unsettling and dangerous ideas. Here, again, America has a track record of which it can be proud as we have produced a generation of functional illiterates who prefer the mundane images that dance across their screens to the harshness of black print on a white page. One never turns off a television because an idea has caused one to stop and think, but one will sure as hell do so with a book.

Without language the angry songs of the rebel are reduced to inarticulate screams and incoherent lyrics. Because they lack the language to analyze they are forced into a state of drug-induced withdrawal.

Another writer describes the benefits of our functional illiteracy when he says:

Because protest in America has become more symbolic than effective, those in
power can afford to ignore it. Even when the participation in protest is
great, it is of short duration; it does not cause serious economic or political
disruption, and it does not pose a real threat to the established
orthodoxy. After a few hours of peaceful marching, the people pack up and
go back to their lives and everything remains as it was before they came.
Effective protest causes economic and political disruption

Pray that they never learn to compress their anger until its fire becomes a crystalline ball of ice. Fire dissipates; ice radiates. Ice is hard and clear; fire blinds with its heat and smoke.

The Art that no longer expresses no longer endangers the state.

Should the public ever discover that, on the grand scale of geological time, our era of technological wonders will barely register as a cosmic fart made possible by that geological fluke known as the Age of Oil, all hell would break loose. And it is the artist or the poet who will make this connection.

So, let them continue to chase after their sinecures and grants, let them drown their anger in the shriek of the electric guitar, let the young equate rebellion with a fashion statement and you may rest assured that our corporatist state can continue merrily along its path of depraved corruption.

Your admirer,
Belacqua Jones


Anonymous said...

Maybe the poet is gay
But he'll be heard anyway

Maybe the poet is drugged
But he won't stay under the rug

Maybe the voice of the spirit
In which case you'd better hear it

Maybe he's a woman
Who can touch you where you're human

Male female slave or free
Peaceful or disorderly
Maybe you and he will not agree
But you need him to show you new ways to see

Don't let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you
Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it

Put him up against the wall
Shoot him up with pentothal

Shoot him up with lead
You won't call back what's been said
Put him in the ground
But one day you'll look around

There'll be a face you don't know
Voicing thoughts you've heard before

Male female slave or free
Peaceful or disorderly
Maybe you and he will not agree
But you need him to show you new ways to see

Don't let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you
Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it

--Bruce Cockburn, "Maybe The Poet" (from "Stealing Fire," 1984)

Case Wagenvoord said...


I believe it was Thomas Merton who said the world needs madmen, poets and artists.

Anonymous said...

It's Allen, not Alan, Ginsberg