As/Is







2.16.2015


Let's Get Metaphysical: Something into Nothing into Something


My conclusion, as regards century XX art, and its flagship movements, Modernism and post-modernism, is that most of the art generated from Modern and post-modern impulses expresses an uncomfortable amount of absolute nothingness: no formal beauty, thoughtfulness, or profound emotion inhere. One can then line up the usual suspects and begin to compose the dossier against them, as anti-art shysters: that John Ashbery’s poetry is largely an expression of absolute nothingness, as is George Oppen’s, Jack Spicer’s, Ron Silliman’s, and the rest (San Fran Ren, Objectivism, Lang-Po all being po-mo offshoots). As a tangent to this, why several generations of American avant-garde poets have rejected English Romanticism is simple: John Keats and his brethren (minus, for my money, William Blake) were too involved in substance and something-ness: affirming the human mind and its imaginative capacities, while also engaging affect and its chiasmus with cognition. In other words, writing serious poetry. The nothingness who is John Ashbery receiving the nothingness that is the Pulitzer Prize (Oppen won it too) perfectly expresses the century XX Zeitgeist: connecting nothing with nothing, as Eliot would have it (pardon the self-contradictory allusion), so that poetry might represent a world “beneath the earth,” so to speak, a world sans what makes us most human, and wise (lowly or not) in our humanity.

What the PFS artists have been doing for fifteen years now is acclimating our creative energies towards realities “above the earth,” rather than beneath it. The transfer of power from nothingness New York to a Philadelphia that, in its architecture and high art, is really something, is bound to be rocky, because, for those less human and humane, nothingness has its pleasures. Yet, where high art is concerned, the city with the best architecture generally wins. Philly will wind up pummeling the shit out of NYC, only to find there was no one there to pummel. The NYC art mindset is, in its willingness to narrativize out of nothing, a totalized sense of nothingness, and, for those who have lived there, Warhol, Koons, and Schnabel are only the beginning. NYC bleeds nothingness. What PFS are looking for is a new, thoughtful, beauty-seeking, cognition-embracing something America from Philadelphia on out. And Philly must accept (as a city which has as active a nothingness quotient as any other) what has happened here, and how a generation of artists tapped into the cosmic, and committed their visions to the public sector in a bunch of blinding flashes; for, as Asians do say, Heaven on Earth is just as disruptive, if not more so, than Hell on Earth. Heaven’s sense of “something” forces people to think, and feel (just as Hellish “nothingness” energies short-circuit cognition, and affect). So, the shock and awe around a changing America, from Philadelphia, may have to blend ecstasy and agony for a while, or forever.