I think sometimes what I miss the most about being younger was the unceasing belief and idea that everything would turn out ‘good.’ Like many vestiges of youth, it really didn’t last for long in retrospect. As it became clear to me that my space in this world was not entirely spiritually-governed or even self-governed, but instead more of a unguided trek in unforgiving terrain, I amended my idea. Everything would turn out ‘fine.’ Not good, not bad, but slightly good enough. I could settle for that.
But this idea, the notion of settling on a prospective future is a strange one. ‘The future is never really yours’ and as of yet, it doesn’t exist. But the past does (or did), and I, like many Westerners, have often seen this linear delineation from past to present as one of Progress. A timed, incremental rise in the net good of the world, as opposed to the net bad. I don’t quite think this is true anymore, I suppose.
– From my first attempt.
I continue to struggle with the idea of how exactly I should be reflecting my thoughts (‘like a mirror, I’d suppose’). Every time I sit down to write, I find myself possessed by the intention to create, but the desire to write only of the heaviness in my heart. I still don’t quite know what to do with that, but here’s my third (hopefully final) attempt at cataloguing my thoughts on ‘The Powers That Be,’ in Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New.
I suppose the thing that strikes me first, of which I will speak the least (I know we are all tired of hearing it), is how timely and relevant this particular episode on DADAism and art within 20th Century totalitarianism. For once, I won’t over-explain my point here. I think we can all read the writing on the wall. Still, I thought it was an interesting point.
Onto my next point, I thought it was so interesting how the wry voice of Hughes dedicates time to the way these DADAist aesthetics later became folded into the the frameworks of totalitarianism, much against their initial intent. This ‘solemn parody’ is undeniably fascinating to me, and reminiscent of a certain *ahem* individual we all know quite well from Errol Morris’ American Dharma. I think this is not really surprising. Stepping aside from The Shock of the New’s art history framework, fascism is and always has been rooted in aesthetics. That’s why, in my opinion, when questioned and analyzed in depth, fascist ideologies often fail to have consistent and effective conclusions that allow them to govern. Fascist societies rise quickly, but they also always fail, because to a fascist regime, the appearance of power is often equivalent in necessity to active power, and to have the former to its fullest breadth, sometimes you must sacrifice the latter.
But, moving back to the framework of art history, what I could not get out of my mind, watching “The Powers that Be” was the presence of this mosaic, almost ouroboric conception of it. Everything seems to repeat again and react again, in slightly different, almost parodic iterations, and consuming the one that came before. There is no Progress, only movement through time, and a truly delineating narrative is harder to piece together than perhaps I had realized.
I bring this up because something I think Hughes may have said (I wish I could find the time-stamp) during the Duchamp interview stuck with me; how in DADA there is an excess of interesting objects within our own world, and that an artist can merely choose of them, and this act is now parity to creation itself. This act of choice, versus creation, is endlessly fascinating because it is this paradoxical relationship that, to me, qualifies all the discourse of collage as an art form.
Not just discourse of the art form, but the art form’s characteristic discourse- the one that it generates by its mere presence. Because when you examine a successful collage, it is evidently a referential document, consisting of deliberately chosen media, but the effect it often has is often entirely new, characteristic of creation.
I don’t want to devalue my own efforts by insisting that nothing I’ve said is groundbreaking, but I feel as though I may have said much of this before. However, I think what I did find most helpful from The Shock of the New was the contextualization. The episode itself was chronologically nestled between the end of the Vietnam War and the Fall of the Berlin Wall, which was interesting to me, but the political context of DADAism was quite illuminating to me. I hadn’t realized prior to my viewing of it, the subsequent effect that the co-opting of these sorts of aesthetics by fascists had on modernity in general. In America especially, I feel we often have a tendency to divorce our knowledge of art from its political circumstances. I don’t know why exactly we tend to do this, but I’d wager to guess it probably has something to do with capitalism and how commodification is much easier when a movement is removed from its original context (see also: Punk and Grunge subculture in the United States).
But alas, I think that is the end of my reflection for now. Despite how I come across in person, I really do have a preference for the succinct, and when I don’t have much to say, I don’t like to pretend otherwise. All I’ll conclude with; I found this episode very interesting. I feel the gears turning in my admittedly a bit rusty mind. I think that is a profoundly good thing these days.
Until next time.