Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Adam Fieled

Chop with a Machete: Nineteenth Century Provincialism?

          It is only 2014, and already a body of work has coalesced and established itself
publicly in the higher arts in America which threatens the hegemony of the twentieth
century’s accepted, dominant strains of aesthetic theory and practice. What this body of
work largely establishes is an imperative to dismantle, disorient, and, ultimately, destroy
twentieth century aesthetic ideologies, from the inside out, and towards several foundational
recognitions—that thematics, largely lost in twentieth century avant-garde formalism, must
be reinstated as a constituent element in the higher arts, to set a well-rounded standard for
twenty-first century higher art; that, for the creation of higher art and for its dissemination to
be as rich and potentially durable as possible, the entire history of high art must be embraced
rather than discarded; and that a meaningful demarcation between high and popular art,
blurred into obscurity in century XX, needs also to be reinstated in order to acknowledge,
appreciate, and reward the seriousness, thoughtfulness, and depth-consonance (formal and
thematic) of manifestly superior (even in culturally relative contexts) aesthetic efforts.
          The quandary with the fulsome insertion of these foundational recognitions into
recognized, standardized aesthetic discourses is that the century XX old guard will consider
them “provincial”—that they are a retreat from the theoretical advances of the twentieth
century into the parochial, patriarchal, culturally homogenous nineteenth century, and that
the intellectually sophisticated cultural relativism which would be lost would constitute
a profound, emasculating step backwards from world-consonance, queer-consonance,
advanced gender-consonance, and genuine, responsible socio-political awareness. The
problem I have, as a practicing artist and theorist, with the twentieth century’s advanced
aesthetic theoretical apparatuses and those who espouse them is relatively simple—for all
that key texts bravely consolidate a sense of responsibility around issues of gender, race,
sexual orientation, and all facets of cultural relativism, the works of literary and visual
higher art produced in the twentieth century are so drastically inferior, both formally and
thematically (and in avant-garde twentieth century literature, narrow, hermetically sealed,
anti-humanistic formalism ruled the roost quite unequivocally), to what was produced in the
nineteenth century, that what has been produced of serious merit in the twenty-first century
smoothly and organically “skips” twentieth century literature (and visual art), and erects itself
from nineteenth century models.
          Looking at the nineteenth century and the twentieth, in theoretical and practical
chiasmus, each century manifested its own brand (or manner or form) of provincialism—
and I am arguing here that, despite its outward protestations of courage and a responsible,
culturally egalitarian humanism, the twentieth century’s form and manner of aesthetic
provincialism, which eschewed the rigorous and well-rounded in practice for the facile,
and did away, in many sectors, with any serious approach to coherence, cohesiveness, and
applied thematic focus altogether, letting tiny, slight formal gestures unsuccessfully pick up
the gestalt slack, is far more steep than the nineteenth’s manner of culturally homogenous
artistic production, and makes the twentieth century both potentially a featherweight one, a
laughingstock, and one easy to “dispose of” in the new century’s ambience.
          As the twenty-first century develops, many suspect that a nasty conspiracy looms
behind the vapid, vacuous fraudulence of twentieth century art, aesthetics, and other
branches of the humanities. The conspiracy has to do with narcotics, and the widespread,
flagrant trafficking of narcotics. The supposed narrative runs that high level, high
maintenance drug dealers and drug dealing conglomerates, including wealthy families, in
the twentieth century were fond, for various business reasons (of convenience and for
the purpose of subterfuge) of adopting and maintaining “fronts” for their illicit activities;
and that, by misrepresenting the business interests at hand while simultaneously creating a
veneer of cultural, humanitarian respectability, the higher arts provided both a useful outlet
and a manner or form of representing states of business affairs, backwards and sideways.
If twentieth century higher art appears to be abased and degraded beyond belief, it may be
because its primary purpose was not to symbolize or embody the heights and depths to
which human consciousness can rise or fall, but to display the wares of illicit, violence-driven
commerce—and thus, to enact the humanities’ dissolution into cacophonous nothingness.
          The suspicion that, in the twentieth century, powerful drug dealers and drug dealing
conglomerates had bifurcated motivations—both to achieve maximum profit-gain and to
destroy the humanities’ integrity in the process—is a very real and compelling one, when
a seasoned intellect is forced to take seriously what was written and published under the
high art aegis in that century, particularly the second half of that century, when the flatulent
specter of the “post-modern” was shoved, by brute force and greed, into public prominence.
The narrative of the central suspicion continues, that many Modern and post-modern artists
were not authentic individuals but “characters,” assembled by drug dealing conglomerates
to represent business interests. Thus, the differentiated, distinguished figure of the twentieth
century author may prove to have been a character actor, fulfilling a specially scripted,
particularized dossier—and the foundational structures behind or beneath these characters
would include hacks specifically hired to write books to fulfill (again) dossier scripts; and
drug dealers, prepared to send messages (“decoys”) through their character’s speech,
social interactions, and published writings, whether threats, recriminations, instructions, or
affirmations of profitable conditions in different sectors.
          I have hypothesized that the twentieth century may go on record as the “Hollywood
Century”; if this is so, it is because an abundance of “characters” occupying the public stage,
rather than authentic, autonomous individuals, assured that the twentieth century’s public
sphere was created and maintained in a spirit of drastically bad faith, reducing the humanities
to the dull-minded tawdriness of the cheapest, flimsiest popular culture and kitsch, and
for no good reason other than dope deals. This, if it is the case, even if only potentially the
case, or half the case, is as silly, sad, and pathetic a century dossier as a humanities century
can possibly have; and accounts for the twentieth century higher artist’s perpetual attempt,
from Duchamp forward, to degrade, abase, and destroy the higher arts from the inside out
(both of humanistic interest and of intellectual substance.) This “century sickness” is largely
behind us, though we see remnants of it in the American mainstream press, and many of us
are prepared to be objective about it—and what has been established in higher art contexts
in the twenty-first century by 2014 arguably trumps the achievements of the entire, oafish,
bastardized twentieth century. Thus, the sorrow of waste and extreme disenchantment is
tempered for many of us by wind filling new sails, the novel congeries of circumstances
around which must still seem, in their fledgling state, undetermined and indeterminate.

[Painting is “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Goya]


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