To Romantics Of The New Millennia (first letter)


I’ve been told more than once (since the start of this century) that all artists are masochists, that they keep demanding to be heard and seen, felt, wanted, applauded, despite being ignored or rejected over and over again, that they garner immense pleasure from this self-inflicted torture, this repeated confrontation with indifference, that they posit this process as a (false) validation of their individuation and special-ness. This scenario seems far too reductive (and cynical) to me, excluding so many other modes of being and doing, thinking and feeling, but it does make me wonder… Perhaps the old, revolutionary objective of collapsing the divides or separation between artists, non-artists and everyday life has already taken place. We’re perpetually encouraged to feel and express our uniqueness en masse, to love and hate, to create our own content, to share instantaneously on a global scale, to shed and invent selves. Do we unwittingly fuel the world as it is? Have we forfeited all recourse to change it? What is heard (let alone felt or understood) when everyone has a say and nobody has to listen? What becomes of the imagination when reality is so preposterous? Do we mistake this reality (a global quagmire of paranoia, accumulating ruin, loss of certainty and dread) for a kind of gothic nightmare, fascist propaganda or noir dream? Do we mistake our dreaming for reality?
Are these the questions I should be asking? I want to read what my writing erases. I pretend to know what I’m doing, from crisis to crisis. Surely there are consequences to the assumptions I make, to what I name and omit, even as I proceed in this awareness. My not sent letters enact the problem too, but it doesn’t necessarily render them interesting or enigmatic. If anything (and I’m loathe to admit it) they are neurotically bourgeois — despite (or perhaps because of) my recurring attempts to antagonize and reject the tenets of market logic in making them. The creative destruction involved already hosts the phantasmagoria of modernity and its hysterical competitions.  I’ve never been a secret agent (the situation I’m in was never a planned part of some larger guerilla warfare campaign). I am a begrudgingly accidental bohemian. Who among us thinks they’re not? I continue to refuse the separation of appearances from lived experience imposed by capital — our forced migration from being-to-having-to-appearing — but my protestations betray themselves in performance. Perhaps the colonial, romantic anti-hero and the neoliberal citizen-consumer are becoming synonymous, consolidating (as we sing Don’t Fence Me In from rented feeding cages)…  But I’m not willing to give up on resistance just yet. Are you with me? Are you a part of the problem? Are we a part of the problem if we think that we’re not?
Each of these not sent letters, in form and content, condemns capitalist profiteers and their diabolical rationalizations, but of course, I also try to explain and pontificate, judge and justify, think-through desires and impulses as I write. Do I believe, as Wittgenstein once claimed, that thought is the significant proposition, while knowing words will fail me. Is this project an attempt to escape the misrepresentation of my thoughts? I don’t think so. I engage with culture as a raw material, something that must be broken down and reconstituted, used within a fluid dialectical process of revealing and destruction, but also agency, change, becoming. I’ve been at this awhile now and end up, more often than not, with myself. Can such an engagement with culture really exist if I’m my only audience, if this project is only known to others through a passive, external acknowledgement of an image of a misinformed idea, generated somewhere else, by someone or something else, directed by alien interests, displacing whatever it is/was that I’ve actually been up to? Have I, have we, become unwitting reflections of the way things are? Are we truly atomized, enslaved, non-thinking and emotionally evacuated as we attempt to think and feel (let alone convey our experience)? Where does free thought reside within an ongoing present of perpetual emergency? Can we verify if our feelings are our own?
Are these the right questions to be asking right now? Will we ever know what our expression erases?