The Song of the Dogs' by
The Mekons & Kathy Acker
Pussy, King Of The Pirates (1996)
Pussy, King Of The Pirates (1996)
and then an excerpt of
THE AESTHETICS OF SILENCE / SUSAN SONTAG
Though no longer a confession, art is more than ever a deliverance, an exercise in asceticism. Through it, the artist becomes purified — of himself and, eventually, of his art, The artist (if not art itself) is still engaged in a progress toward "the good." But formerly, the artist's good was mastery of and fulfillment in his art. Now it's suggested that the highest good for the artist is to reach that point where those goals of excellence become insignificant to him, emotionally and ethically, and he is more satisfied by being silent than by finding a voice in art. Silence in this sense, as termination, proposes a mood of ultimacy antithetical to the mood informing the self-conscious artist's traditional serious use of silence: as a zone of meditation, preparation for spiritual ripening, an ordeal which ends in gaining the right to speak. (Cf. Valery, Rilke)
So far as he is serious, the artist is continually tempted to sever the dialogue he has with an audience. Silence is the furthest extension of that reluctance to communicate, that ambivalence about making contact with the audience which is a leading motif of modern art, with its tireless commitment to the "new" and/or the "esoteric" Silence is the artist's ultimate other-worldly gesture; by silence, he frees himself from servile bondage to the world, which appears as patron, client, audience, antagonist, arbiter, and distorter of his work.
Still, in this renunciation of "society," one cannot fail to perceive a highly social gesture. Some of the cues for the artist's eventual liberation from the need to practice his vocation come from observing his fellow artists and measuring himself against them. An exemplary decision of this sort can be made only after the artist has demonstrated that he possesses genius and exercised that genius authoritatively. Having already surpassed his peers, by the standards which he acknowledges, pride has only one place left to go. For, to be a victim of the craving for silence is to be, in still a further sense, superior to everyone else. It suggests that the artist has had the wit to ask more questions than other people, as well as that he possesses stronger nerves and higher standards of excellence. (That the artist can persevere in the interrogation of his art until he or it is exhausted isn't in doubt. As René Char has written, "No bird has the heart to sing in a thicket of questions")
The exemplary modern artist's choice of silence isn't often carried to this point of final simplification, so that he becomes literally silent. More typically, he continues speaking, but in a manner that his audience can't hear. Most valuable art in our time has been experienced by audiences as a move into silence (or unintelligibility or invisibility or inaudibility); a dismantling of the artist's competence, his responsible sense of vocation — and therefore as an aggression against them.
Modern art's chronic habit of displeasing, provoking, or frustrating its audience can be regarded as a limited, vicarious participation in the ideal of silence which has been elevated as a prime standard of seriousness in the contemporary scene.
But it is also a contradictory form of participation in the ideal of silence. It's contradictory not only because the artist still continues making works of art, but also because the isolation of the work from its audience never lasts. With the passage of time and the intervention of newer, more difficult works, the artist's transgression becomes ingratiating, eventually legitimate. Goethe accused Kleist of having written his plays for an "invisible theatre." But in time the invisible theatre becomes "visible" The ugly and discordant and senseless become "beautiful." The history of art is a sequence of successful transgressions.
The characteristic aim of modern art, to be unacceptable to its audience, can be regarded as the inverse statement of the unacceptability to the artist of the very presence of an audience — in the familiar sense, an assembly of voyeuristic spectators. At least since Nietzsche observed in The Birth of Tragedy that an audience of spectators as we know it, those present whom the actors ignore, was unknown to the Greeks, a good deal of contemporary art seems moved by the desire to eliminate the audience from art, an enterprise that often presents itself as an attempt to eliminate "art" altogether. (In favor of "life"?)
Committed to the idea that the power of art is located in its power to negate, the ultimate weapon in the artist's inconsistent war with his audience is to verge closer and closer to silence. The sensory or conceptual gap between the artist and his audience, the space of the missing or ruptured dialogue, can also constitute the grounds for an ascetic affirmation. Samuel Beckett speaks of "my dream of an art unresentful of its insuperable indigence and too proud for the farce of giving and receiving." But there is no abolishing a minimal transaction, a minimal exchange of gifts, just as there is no talented and rigorous asceticism that doesn't produce a gain (rather than a loss) in the capacity for pleasure.