The Malevolent Desire for Recognition


I have only to wire one more piece, and I’m ready to make a list of the art with numbers (and titles, if they have them), and I’m ready to take everything to O.U.R. Gallery for Saturday’s opening. Pulling everything out where I could see it—anticipating having it on display, set me to thinking about making art—and having it seen by others, how the pleasure from the first, and the unquenchable desire represented by the second—are irreconcilable. I think the latter is a good example of what Lacan meant by jouissance.

Would that I were capable of trashing each new piece on completion I think I would be the happier for it. I can’t suppress that wish—that my work be seen, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it would only stop there, but wanting others to see what I do is impossibly entangled, no matter how I try to deny it, put it out of my head, starve the thought—with the malignant desire for … recognition. There… I said it.

I know perfectly well that this is a desire that can never be satisfied, because it externalizes something–seeks to answer a question that can only come from within oneself. Are these things that I make… are they any good? Do they have value? But no matter what anyone might say—not the highest praise from the most respected source can satisfy, because no one but one’s self can be a just judge of one’s own work. And all the worse—what prideful pleasure one might take from such praise, has to be resisted, shaken off, because if it takes hold, it will surely corrupt… turn a bitter poison to the soul. This is so, I suspect, because in seeking approval and confirmation for the work, we cannot separate that from seeking approval and confirmation for our own being… the creative work becomes a vehicle for our salvation. If only I can succeed, I will be saved! If only I can make a work of art worthy of (…. ? …. ) — But worthy of what? Of posterity? Like Hazlitt’s essay on fame? One might have believed that when it seemed there would be no end to human history until some divine resolution. Look how that—as an aesthetic idea—has dominated literary … oh, and musical production–that need for final resolution, the conclusion that wraps it all up and closes the book. How fragile that illusion has become—who put any serious stock in the idea of posterity in this age of thermonuclear weapons, global climate change, decimation of biodiversity, governance by the stupidest most self-serving and delusional of the species?

… and it never was more than an illusion, one that served the gatekeepers of class and privilege well… while keeping all but the tiniest minority locked out, controlled, suppressed. Like all the versions of paradise after death.

If I were writing in Hazlitt’s time, I’d be thinking about how to wrap this up…searching for that fine conclusion—for closure (there’s the word I was looking for! Closure)… but in a time so near the end, there can be no closure. Everything in medias res.


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