Lebenskünstler

Draining the Swamp of Art – John Zerzan – The Case Against Art

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/11/2013

The Case Against Art – John Zerzan

Frequently compared to play, art and culture – like religion – have more often worked as generators of guilt and oppression. Perhaps the ludic function of art, as well as its common claim to transcendence, should be estimated as one might reassess the meaning of Versailles: by contemplating the misery of the workers who perished draining its marshes.

Today culture is commodity and art perhaps the star commodity. The situation is understood inadequately as the product of a centralized culture industry, a la Horkheimer and Adorno. We witness, rather, a mass diffusion of culture dependent on participation for its strength, not forgetting that the critique must be of culture itself, not of its alleged control.

The avant-garde has generally staked out wider claims, projecting a leading role denied it by modern capitalism. It is best understood as a social institution peculiar to technological society that so strongly prizes novelty; it is predicated on the progressivist notion that reality must be constantly updated.

But avant-garde culture cannot compete with the modern world’s capacity to shock and transgress (and not just symbolically). Its demise is another datum that the myth of progress is itself bankrupt.

Occasionally critics, like Thomas Lawson, bemoan art’s current inability “to stimulate the growth of a really troubling doubt,” little noticing that a quite noticeable movement of doubt threatens to throw over art itself. Such “critics” cannot grasp that art must remain alienation and as such must be superseded, that art is disappearing because the immemorial separation between nature and art is a death sentence for the world that must be voided.

Adorno began his book thusly: “Today it goes without saying that nothing concerning art goes without saying, much less without thinking. Everything about art has become problematic; its inner life, its relation to society, even its right to exist.” But _Aesthetic Theory_ affirms art, just as Marcuse’s last work did, testifying to despair and to the difficulty of assailing the hermetically sealed ideology of culture. And although other “radicals,” such as Habermas, counsel that the desire to abolish symbolic mediation is irrational, it is becoming clearer that when we really experiment with our hearts and hands the sphere of art is shown to be pitiable. In the transfiguration we must enact, the symbolic will be left behind and art refused in favor of the real. Play, creativity, self-expression and authentic experience will recommence at that moment.

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