Art in the 21st century

“Despite all its powers, society cannot sustain the artist if
it is impervious to the vision of the artist.” – Henry Miller

What is art today? More precisely, what does art convey? Art has become an adornment, mere embellishment to our mechanical society. It is what you hang behind an office desk, in the hallway of a bank, in the solitary confines of a museum. It is what is read while we travel between two points, what is listened to while we drive to work, what we assist to in moments of laziness and passive submission to entertainment. It is that which is viewed askance, situated in the periphery, unobtrusive to the real function of society: business.

Art is no longer an expression of a deeper vision of reality; and if it is, we, at least, no longer perceive it as such. It is aesthetic, no doubt. But it is not beautiful enough to secure a prominent role in our routines. As far as we are concerned, it is pastime, an elegant but inferior activity in life. It conveys no truth or doubt to the spectator. Life is predetermined and already decided; art is solely an amusement, even if it constantly fights against modern life. It exists as a hallucination, a sort of intoxication that can easily be dismissed as unreal and irrelevant. The serious business of life cannot be questioned; it has no room for the artist and his or her artwork that challenges the unconsciousness of its drives.

And yet some artists do become idols in this culture and their art known universally, but is their artwork studied as profoundly as we study engineering or business administration? The artists’ message, their restructuring of our understanding of reality, their incessant re-questioning of our basic assumptions, remain quite below the general level of public attention. We all recognize the dripping clock of Dali or the visual massacre of the Guernica, some will recognize the dreamy seascape of La Mer or the cavernous sorrow of the Adagio for Strings, the name of Humbert Humbert or Harry Hope may be familiar to a few, a minority will recall The Waste Land or a Season in Hell; but what is noteworthy here is that recognizing these works of art by their name is no sign that we have delved in them and studied them profoundly. We care only superficially of what they imply, what the message is all about. There is no understanding that an artist is a transformation of the human being and is attempting a redefinition of what is to be alive in a mysterious universe. We assume art as a gift to culture by one and the same kind of individual that already lives in that culture.

Art has now been banalized, it has become a career and today there are flocks of artists that operate as businesses, as factories manufacturing objects to be bought and superficially enjoyed. The true artist is rare these days, he or she is muted and oppressed by this contradiction. How to bring forth a genuine work of art in this spurious world that is driven by money? The voice of art is being drowned by the roar of commerce and trivial entertainment. Society has absorbed art; and the artist has docilely submitted to his or her new harrowing role of ornamentalist. The commandments of art are now thus: you shall entertain, you shall impress, you shall produce the beautiful, you shall be famous, but under no circumstance should you dishonor your loving parent: society. Society does not want individuals to think and act differently, to produce controversies that may outstrip the authority of the status quo. Art may produce change insofar as it remains within the parameters of the socially digestible.

The artist is no longer an artist. He or she has forgotten that divine calling of making of life an experiment. The artist must suffer eternally, must wrestle with the incongruities and absurdities of living and dying, must explore the unknown realm of the spirit and  (in the words of Rimbaud)become a seer. The work produced thereafter will be only an inkling, an announcement of vaster realms accessible to all, it is an opening at the roof of an abyss for those who dare plunge into it. The experiential adventure of consciousness is now going extinct, there are few enthusiasts left. It is a form of wisdom that society ignores and lumps together under the heading “esoteric mumbo-jumbo”, or more spitefully, “madness”. (Hasn’t history shown that many great artists were deemed mad in their time, only later to be proclaimed visionaries?). And yet this wisdom is no particular statement or philosophy; it is an active engagement with the mystery of creation, what once was the domain of the artist and religious fervent. Today art as well as religion is downplayed as historical curiosity, still operating as long as they leave intact, and even follow, the new order created by the God of modern civilization: money.

of the living

Routine streets

Of the living
clod of reality,
the bladed streams
of circumstance,
in the incinerated rush
of experience;
miracle of memories,
the enigmatic ordeal
of existing –
postponed,
quietly repressed
in the lethargic hum
of your
original routine!

 

21st century Poetry

killing time

Killing Time

 
 
 

 

Feel the beating of the prison heart? Time deals the future as cheap junk. I’m an addict just like you. No need to run, there’s no escaping. It’s useless to be optimistic or pessimistic about it. Everybody wants to change it, but who’s ever watching it? It is a remarkable thing to be a body. A body of evidence, who knows how many millions of years of evidence. The evidence points to mediocrity. If you have ever witnessed a murder, then you must know how I feel when I witness human nature. It’s atrocious. Everything is tangled up inside, confused by language, made insipid with repetitive thoughts and drives, full of sadness if you want to hear the truth. The valiant acts of art? Muddled self-pity, if you ask me. Art is a sweet kind of poison, but it is still toxic. Life, culture, art, all of it once made me sick to the bone. I am learning to deal with it now. A feeling of disgust is merely a form of disguised utopian mentality. If existence is unbearable, we are assuming or hoping for some kind of alternative worthier reality that is being spoiled by the current state of affairs. But there isn’t any and if there is, what makes us suppose we will be the ones to solve the conundrum when so many others have failed in the course of history. We wait for our time to pass, often fixated with a future state of well-being. It’s a compulsion but it does the job. It kills time. There is just too much of it and we’re running out of ideas. Take this loathsome piece of prose or art or self-pity; whatever you call it. I’m just killing time.

 

 

Nihilistic Poetry

faking pleasure

political poetry

lands
boundary
relative to
infinity and vacuums
my passport to being
in a Rorschach bureaucracy
never mix philosophy
with politics
my motto even whilst
severely drunk
yet

 

I remain silent
don’t
can’t
defend any position

 

let me pretend with
you
that this system
has foundations

 

like the planet
earth
resting on top
of an endless accession
of turtles
till
the end
of
space

 

I see their
heads.

 

 

fifth floor

 

 

I decided to live on a fifth floor

because I enjoy viewing things from

afar

most afternoons

I watch down

on the swaying of the city

the moody strangers              

the angry cars

a fifth floor is a nest

seated on the branch

of a decaying tree

sunsets are my favorite

when the ooze of night

drips over the frightened lampposts

quickly the children of the day

retreat to their smaller caves

on a fifth floor

there is not much to do

but watch the ambiguous expressions

of pedestrians

and listen to the tired screams

of ambulances

while the cool autumn air

sinks

between the concrete-walled

canyon

I moved to a fifth floor

so I could have thoughts

like these

and to never

become

one of them.

 

 

 

Nihilistic Poetry

A modern crisis

 

 

 

We were born after a whole deal of postures and attitudes had been tried and dismissed. It seemed to me that this was the first time in human history when life was unbearable even while we have all the basic conditions for survival and a surplus of commodities. We live in the absence of a raison d’être and our very lives could actually be defined as the search for that sacred reason. We would and probably will travel around the globe and consume every possible experience in search of that elusive understanding that could justify and make sense of all the seemingly senseless gyrations between birth and death, hunting for that catharsis that would erase our feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency.   

If I am allowed to make a stand on the current emptiness that governs the modern rebel (and I must state that this rebel is even reluctant to assume this label), I could place him or her within a crisis of value. Let’s formulate this crisis. The ‘fortunate’ human being that is born in a middle-class or higher family is bestowed an excess of leisure, which is occupied with an endless parade of distractions, vague and short-lived entertainments that do not provide deep-rooted satisfaction. This repetition of material hedonism is deceiving and can engage the individual in a merry-go-round of renewable pleasures that are futile in their long-term effects. What an overwhelmingly urban and global society presents as the content and purpose of leisure is more often than not a distraction, a veiling of our impoverished consciousness. The value crisis in which we are situated stimulates thus, within the rebel, a sort of antagonisms against life in general and humanity in particular. Is this a wise human race encumbered by trivial pursuits? 

The rebel stands in an existential agnosticism. What can replace the insipid routines, what solution can one offer to resolve the dilemma of human baseness? If leisure represents the time humans can delve in their purpose, our reasoning would lead us to suppose that the average human lives for unchallenging and ready-made experiences. What about the higher fields of art, music, religion, love? Have these been explored sufficiently by the modern man? Do they offer any comfort? All questions with no ready answer, the rebel is obliged to ask without answering, merely pointing to the emptiness without offering a substitute.
 

The rebel doesn’t conclude hastily but is eager to explore any alternative. The contemporary paradigm is of a successive development from school to career, love to family, wealth to belongings, material accumulations to distractions; yet all this is seen as a deception, a reductionism of the natural potential for a human life.  The rebel is apt to adopt a cynical skepticism towards the replacement of one mode of life for another. Life becomes an experiment, a lonesome journey through the limbo of uncertainty. Could religion fill this gap, could music appease this anxiety, could art express this loneliness, could love heal this wound? The experimenter enters them all and many others with caution but will urgently surrender if any of these would deliver him from the surrounding emptiness. Yet traps abound, the guinea-pig rebel still has within the seed of conformism, soon things lose their depth and life abandons its impetus. How to keep the zest for life awake without returning to the dullness of a repetition-ridden soul? 
 

It may seem we are doomed, that any experience by force of repetition becomes insufficiently satisfying for the abyss of hunger that grows inside.  

These reflections surge from a modern crisis. A crisis from our lack of meaning, our absence of value. This, in other words, can be called a spiritual crisis. But the themes of this crisis are not god or original sin, it rather belongs to practical ontology, that is to say, a transforming of the quality of being, producing a reality that becomes not only bearable but powerful enough to sweep away the myopic awareness of normal human life. A new understanding might be wanting, a new wisdom of what we understand human life to be, what we do and what we aspire to; a journey that requires a mixture between philosophy and adventure, a compendium of revolt, daring and openness.
 
 
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The beauty of traffic

 

 

I had to give up the futile attempt of telling the story of alienation; of describing an uncharted state of confusion – newly born since today is new and has never before been lived.  Only recently I had begun to understand the system into which I was born, spontaneously thrown into a configuration which is perceived as bizarre shortly after one is capable of analysis. And I am baffled to discover that the very faculty that has allowed me to unveil the absurdity of these circumstances is the cause of the environment I find myself in. The sharp razor of analysis, calculation, planning, prediction… the distinctiveness of our species, the pride of our ancestors: Reason itself, master and artist of modern civilization, creator and ruler of this world of laws and symbols. So powerful, yet so deadly. I had thrust myself into the arms of such deceitful guru, only to become prisoner of a disease… caged in thought, lost in chatter. With the torch of reasoning I explored the corridors of the modern world, I studied the interior of today’s machinery, and I probed the shallowness of our desires. Horrified by what I found, I stood still…. a sun slithered down the gilded sky, cars followed a steady line… waves of intangible information flowed by.

The world is changing. It is evolving before our very own eyes. We are carrying out a plan that we inherited – a plan that has no foreseen outcome but is continued only because of an illusion, perhaps the hope of progress, or some euphoric moment of fulfillment awaiting us in some distant corner of the future. Or is it comfort and laziness, fear of challenging what was given to us? Inertia compels us to accept the system, a system that is clearly cruel, indifferent and disheartening but at least it gives us survival, a chance to carry on with our lives without suffering too much. Nonetheless, this system is expanding beyond our control, we cannot see an end to our technological societies, feeding endlessly from our endless desires.  We submit to a system we don’t understand but is presented as trustworthy, worthy of the highest respect… the ultimate goal of collective existence: civilization. And why? Why should I accept this intricate system of highways transporting money-seeking creatures, why should organization be preferred over chaos and spontaneity?

I’ve learned that any set of beliefs is relative to tradition, an environment endowed with the authority of time (or feigned timelessness), a community of believers that reinforce the belief with repetition, indoctrination, in short, education… and based on what, the authority of their opinions, their convictions based on the solemnity of their forefathers’ expressions, and so on, until the very necessity of proof is vanished because tradition has been instituted and a full circle has been completed. Tradition contains the “truth” and that truth was begotten by the unchallenged belief of generations which granted tradition the authority of timeless revelation. I’m not only thinking of religion which is of minor concern nowadays. Tradition in the form of greed, individuality, progress, happiness; any principle by which we can govern our lives. Doesn’t it make sense that our calculating minds, striving for one fulfillment after another, have adopted this behavior after years upon years of learning the same old ways of our immediate forefathers? And can we continue using the moral imperative of “ought to”, we ought to be happy, we ought to be successful, we ought to be reasonable; in modern terms, we ought to be well off. How can we again insinuate some sort of collective ethics, when every purposeful ideal is always biased, wrought by individual preference and thus, completely inadequate for generalization?

In universal terms, in the metaphysical urgency triggered by poetic insight, in silent contemplation that destroys the metanarrative of cosmic history painted by science and rationalism, when the grand picture of the universe is captured in one unified indescribable awareness… in that state which is short-lived but long-lasting… and to view a queue of cars, the sidewalk wet by rain, the sun tainted by clouds, the air still, all these and yet none of these. When nothing seems like a necessity, anything can be challenged, overturned, changed — beauty that has no structure, no rationale

…. a sun slithered down the gilded sky, cars followed a steady line… waves of intangible information flowed by.

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