Neo-Romanticism and the Academy

As per Neo-Romanticism and the Academy: we will have to be both in it and out of it forever. The in/out dichotomy could express beleaguered avant-gardism or half (or a third or quarter) academicism; but, because Neo-Romanticism has a hinge both to philosophy and literary theory on high levels, both of which flourish (usually) only in academic contexts, and because I went to Penn and Abby to PAFA, we will never properly be “street” (as we could be) in Philadelphia, New York, or anywhere else. The more aesthetically valid version of academicism we espouse is our version of classicism— of historical awareness which dotes on an elite handful of already elite achievements, specifically in English Romanticism and French Neo-Classicism. Yet, looking at Meeting Halfway, Abby’s boldest statement of queer intentionality, and how classicism is balanced by an imperative to be intimate, sexual, and provocatively so, we can see how Philadelphia’s architecture insisted on a multi-leveled, multi-tiered approach, so that we as artists could be, at least partly, of the street as of the Academy. Call it Neo-Romanticism’s nod to Mannerism, or just a major high art consonant Wall of Sound; and this whole syndrome, of balancing a plethora of imperatives, including raw, frank sexuality, and a classicist dedication to elite forms, is also played out provocatively in Apparition Poem 1649:

Oh you guys, you guys are tough.
I came here to write about some
thing, but now that I came, I can’t
come to a decision about what I

came for. What? You said I can’t
do this? You said it’s not possible
because it’s a violation and not a
moving one? It’s true, you guys

are tough. You know I have tried,
at different times, to please you in
little ways, but this one time I had
this student that was giving me head

and she stopped in the middle to tell
me that I had good taste and you had
bad taste, and I’ll admit it, I believed
her. She was your student too, maybe

you’ve seen her around. She’s the one
with the scarves and the jewelry and
the jewels and the courtesy to give the
teachers head who deserve it. Do you?

Fayette Street in Conshohocken manifests a willingness to transgress, and so do we. When themes and forms are juxtaposed in unlikely ways (City Hall, Center City Philly), we demonstrate an extremely rugged sense of individualism, as does our body of work. Neither Abby nor I were working with any kind of dossier or script to guide our creativity; we were under the architectural spell we were under, and winging it. Getting classicist hands dirty the right way round; the buildings insisted on it (Liberty Place Towers). Or, you could call it formal rigor with a socially relevant edge; creating spaces for our audience where beauty and sexuality themselves could be provocative issues, ditto aesthetic formality. Posit these constituent elements to Neo-Romanticism in chiasmus with the Academy, and what emerges is something very indeterminate, to be honest. Or, the ambiguity between the Academy and Neo-Romanticism has inhering in it the tension between formality and thematic provocation, beauty and conceptuality, which (owing to an inferior relationship to aesthetic form and formality) the twentieth century in literature and visual art never particularly bothered to deal with, as the English Romantics and French Neo-Classicists did in the nineteenth. The twentieth century, backwards and sideways, in Neo-Romanticism, is all about what in our work is conceptual, including concepts of forms, and why we have chosen to employ aesthetic formality the way we have. In the aftermath of the glut of post-modern conceptuality in the last fifty years, daring to be formally beautiful and socially relevant simultaneously is its own gambit. Walks down the right Philadelphia streets will show anyone that Philadelphia’s spaces are constantly doing these tricks, between usefulness and ravishment, what is serviceable and what is sumptuous, all in a time/space continuum spanning a number of centuries. What our architecture revealed to us is a game much more grandiose and all-encompassing then most of the twentieth century in our disciplines dared to imagine— a way of taking raw sex, raw beauty, and weaving it through with the right kind of conceptuality so that we’ve got all the way from Ingres to Warhol, all the way from Keats to Pynchon covered.