The modernist thirst for originality makes the mediocre artist believe that the secret of originality consists simply in being different.
—Nicolás Gómez Dávila
Hat tip to Michael Flynn. Out of the mouths of smart-alecks comes spot-on satire:
In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.
And, after all, the worst crimes are not always the punishable ones. By encouraging necrophilic reveries one probably does quite as much harm as by, say, picking pockets at the races. One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. The one does not invalidate or, in a sense, affect the other.
The first thing that we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is separable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp. In the same way it should be possible to say, ‘This is a good book or a good picture, and it ought to be burned by the public hangman.’ Unless one can say that, at least in imagination, one is shirking the implications of the fact that an artist is also a citizen and a human being.
—George Orwell, ‘Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dalí’
(Paragraph breaks and boldface added.)
And yet here we are, less than a hundred years later, and the Hollywood elite lionizes and defends the likes of Roman Polanski, who did not quite stoop to raping little girls in railway carriages, but is no Shakespeare, either. I will say it plainly: We live in disgusting times.
Wise and great are the Keepers of the Books, for they provide the People with all the knowledge that we need.
There is the Red Book, and there is the Blue Book.
The Blue Book tells us how to plant the pobble seeds, and when to pick the pobble fruit, and how to cook the pobble fruit, and the proper manners for spitting out the seeds after the pobble fruit is eaten, so that we will not look like the brute beasts.
Also the Blue Book tells us how to harvest the stems of the pobble plant, and how to make them into fibre, and how to weave the fibre to make the grundle cloth, and how to wrap the grundle cloth round our bodies to cover our nakedness in the approved manner.
And the Blue Book tells us not to stare at the light, for the light of the sun is too bright to stare at, and it is the only light we need; all other lights are a snare and a delusion. We have one food, one plant, one cloth, and one light; who could want for more?
The Red Book, now, the Red Book is a thing of magic.
The Red Book contains the Song, and the Poem, and the Exciting Story. It contains an excellent colour plate of the Picture, and a detailed plan from which we can rebuild the Statue if anything ever happens to it. We thought that the plan was needless, because who wants a plan when we already have the Statue? Then one day the Statue was struck by lightning, and we perceived that the Keepers of the Books were wise to make the plan.
O great and varied Culture that we enjoy, having all the things that we need, thanks to the Keepers of the Books! Praise be to them.
Now I hear that a madman, an infidel, a disturber of the peace, is writing a Yellow Book. What can this be, but evil?
For what can there be in the Yellow Book? It cannot be about food, for we already know all about the pobble fruit. It cannot be about clothing, for we already know the grundle cloth. It cannot be about the false lights, for we need only the true light of the sun.
Moreover, the Yellow Book cannot have a song, for we already have the Song. If there is a song in the Yellow Book, either it is the same as the Song, or it is different. If it is the same, we do not need it; and if it is different, it is false. For who could sing any song but the Song? Surely it is a great evil that anyone should try to deprive us of the Song, by luring us with false substitutes.
Likewise, there cannot be a poem, or an exciting story, or a picture, or a plan for the Statue, for we already have all those things.
What can there possibly be in this Yellow Book, but confusion, lies, and destruction?
Therefore you must pardon me, while I join the rest of the People. We go now to smash the maker of the Yellow Book with stones, until he is dead.
Our Culture must be protected!
Talent is what, if you succeed, people who don’t know why will say it’s because of. And if you don’t succeed, people who don‘t know why will say it‘s because you haven’t got it. Talent is the Snark; but the Snark is actually a Boojum, and the name of the Boojum is Luck. People do not want to believe in Boojums, so they try very hard to hunt for Snarks.
Another guest post by the austere and infernal H. Smiggy McStudge. Take with the usual quantity of salt; that is, if you have no salt mines in your neighbourhood that are willing to make bulk deliveries, strain half a gallon of seawater through your teeth for each sentence. —T. S.
I love Wagner, but the music I prefer is that of a cat hung up by its tail outside a window and trying to stick to the panes of glass with its claws.
Professional jealousy causes artists to say some terrible things; even, in extreme cases, the truth. For the purposes of the McStudge clan, Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen marked a crucial turning-point in our age-long struggle against Art. In one or two very important ways, it foreshadowed the ultimate fate of grand opera, which was once so dangerous to us and is now so useful to our cause.
If you mention ‘high culture’ to anybody in the English-speaking world, and ask them what is the first thing that comes to mind, there is an excellent chance that they will reply: ‘Opera.’ For generations past, the opera has been the playground of the wealthy elite and the social-climbing sub-elite. I do not, of course, mean that these classes of people write or perform operas: that would be absurd. Though the snobbery and self-importance of the people who do perform operas for their benefit, I am happy to say, is equally absurd and quite real.
No, I mean that rich people and senior bureaucrats gather at palatial opera houses, not to see the opera, but to be seen as opera-goers. They dress up, to this day, in passable imitations of the clothing worn by nineteenth-century aristocrats – the closest some of them ever come to being elegant. They then spend hours of agonizing tedium brought on by music that they do not like, by acting that nobody could praise, and by singing in an artificial and constipated style, all done in a language that they do not understand and for which no translation, as a matter of etiquette, is supplied. (Only a philistine, we teach them to say, would ask what an opera means.) But during the intervals, they have the ecstasy of chattering with their fellow elite in the lobby, eating awful finger sandwiches, swilling champagne, and generally carrying on as if they were the favoured guests of Le Grand Monarque for an unusually exclusive evening at Versailles. Like the Pharisee who prayed on the street corners to be seen praying by men, they have their reward.
A guest post by our Evil Alter Blogger, H. Smiggy McStudge. He says that if I let him rant, he will give me back my blood-pressure medication, maybe even before I have another stroke. Do not trust this man. He would steal Tiny Tim’s crutch. —T. S.
The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes.
Listen: I write pretentious, artsy-aspiring, insufferable literary fiction and even I don’t think there was ever a time when literary fiction was “alive” enough to be called “dead” now.
Literary fiction is dead, my dear Will and Libbie; and I am proud to say that we McStudges killed it. If you want to make out the certificate, I can tell you that it died at precisely the time when it first began to be called literary; you can work out the date from that. A McStudge never sleeps; he may put his audience to sleep, but he himself is always on duty. In the past hundred years, we have killed opera, we have killed poetry, we have killed painting and sculpture, the ballet and the symphony; we have sent ‘serious’ live theatre and ‘serious’ literature to that great arts council in the sky. Latterly, we have started in on merely popular art forms. Even the king of pop culture, the Film Industry (you can tell it is pop because we call it an Industry), has the name of McStudge written across its face in lovely necrotic blotches. We have got written science fiction starting to pine for the fjords, and now we are rubbing our hands with glee, and wondering which genre of popular fiction to kill next.
You may wonder, my poppets, why we McStudges take such delight in killing off art forms; and for the time being, you can take it out in wondering. I may deign to tell you later. For now, I will tell you how this delightful and invaluable work is done. Then you will be in the position of the pathetic Winston Smith, when he wrote in his diary, ‘I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.’ He got his understanding in the torture-cells of the Ministry of Love, and you, my dears, will be there soon enough. You may rest assured of that.
If it sells, it’s crap.
If it doesn’t sell, apply for a grant.
H. Smiggy McStudge
An artist’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s an artist’s statement for?
The enormity of our semiotic struggle with reality and truth far exceeds the capacity of mere human language to express; that is why we express it in language. If it merely exceeded the capacity of music, we would have been composers instead.
Only plebs and pikers actually say what they want to say. Real literature consists in saying that what you want to say cannot possibly be said.
H. Smiggy McStudge
The true artist must always suffer for his art. If you don’t suffer for your art, you won’t know how to make other people suffer for it when it’s their turn.
As Robert Frost nearly said, ‘No cries of agony in the writer, no cries of agony in the reader.’
H. Smiggy McStudge