The Death of Art

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I wrote the following as a comment to a post on Levi Bryant’s Larval Subjects <TheWalkingDead>

This is something I’ve been trying to get my head around for a long time—what it means for an artist or poet to live in a  time without ‘posterity’. Hazlitt’s essay on Fame is the clearest statement I can think of for what we have lost. For Hazlitt, ‘fame’ was nothing like what that word has come to signify in popular usage, which is nothing more than contemporary notoriety; it was rather the consolation and hope for poets and artists unrecognized in their own time, who lived in obscurity, whose only reward was their investment in a belief that future generations will surely bestow on them the recognition they deserve, a belief that found support in the company of all the great artists and poets of the past. A kind of immortality akin to that of the Greek heroes of the Iliad. Even when this wasn’t as plainly articulated as it was with Hazlitt’s romantics, it has been present in one form or another, always—for as long as there been such a thing as Art. Walk through a museum. Thumb through the pages of a book on the history of art. Read Homer, or Shakespeare, or Cervantes. There would be your confirmation.

This is an idea that has a history older than history itself—drawing, before the written word, from oral traditions, stories and legends of the ancestors. But who can believe in such a thing now? –hiding in its pockets, as it does—its untenable teleological assumptions—some dreamt up culmination of the human story… or a future that has no end.

This is what the Death of God means to art, to the making of art. I feel this as something so immense, so important—that I’m a loss for how to think about it, how to express it. I suppose, for those who count success as material reward and notoriety, the very noise generated by of their misplaced desire is enough to mask the loss—but it doesn’t erase its effects. The noise of a Contemporary without a Present, exposes the truth… or the lie, as does the frantic, almost hysterical obsession with defending (even while erasing) ‘creativity’ –by demonstrating its usefulness, showing how it’s but another part of our blind collective frenzy to own control and commodify every last living cell and atomic particle in the accessible universe… what are these, but replacements for the old, dead transcendence with which we wrapped– and called upon to justify the erotic jouissance of our childish play–all that we have left now, of what we used to call “Art”? Because Art doesn’t exist without that false transcendence, without what was purchased with that belief in posterity and all that it assumed.

Art is as Dead as God.

And after the fear, the feeling of something precious lost—comes a sense of tremendous relief… terrifying in its own way… but relief! There is no one watching from above… no unborn critics holding our future hostage, waiting in eternally suspended judgment the works of our imagination… where we once had ART… what we have now – is but play, a joyful play that preserves us—for however long or short our stay on this transient planet, in a childhood we need never grow up or out of.

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