The world’s intellectuals have little trouble discerning the signs of political oppression: a great gulf between rich and poor, military extremism, leaders who feed—vampire-like—upon the people, buying-and-selling for short-term gain, a high degree of domestic abuse, social intolerance, poor buildings, poor roads, poor nutrition, poor health, and science crushed by superstition.
Unfortunately, these same intellectuals are often eager to applaud and cultivate cultural fascism. They support art which is ignorant, oppressive, violent, backward, pedantic, cynical, horrific, and stupid.
Why do they support such art?
The answer is simple.
Because it is art.
The intellectuals support this art, not because they are in favor of ignorance, oppression, violence, backwardness, pedantry, cynicism, horror, and stupidity, obviously, but because they feel they would not be true intellectuals if they did not allow art to be this way if it so chooses.
On issues of politics, the intellectuals, almost to the last, oppose, with all their might, these negative qualities; they oppose them in life, and yet, the sad fact is, political states everywhere are in thrall to these negatives: ignorance, oppression, violence, backwardness, pedantry, cynicism, horror, and stupidity.
Why, then, should we be surprised, that these qualites dominate in art?
Contemporary poetry is ignored by the masses, and for the rest of us, the highly educated who read it, poetry produces knowing smirks more than anything else.
The intellectual understands this political/art issue to be absolute: no protest can be made upon this count, for art must be free. After all, art is not life, art is not politics, and bad politics would tell art what to do. Therefore good politics does not tell art what to do.
Socrates, the wisest philosopher, is shown the door, is led away, down the hill, to that near meadow, to stand speechless, neglected among the buzzing of the flies, lost in thought, perhaps never to speak again. Plato’s offerings must be opposed completely—no compromise is possible in opposing Plato’s philosophy of art, even if art itself comes to resemble the very totalitarian regimes the intellectuals oppose: ignorant, oppressive, violent, backward, pedantic, cynical, horrific, and stupid.
The intellectuals never think that maybe this is a trick the oppressive and totalitarian forces have played on us, to enforce their will not only on political regimes, but upon poetry, as well, so we never think about what poetry should be; we only use it to reflect what is. Big fish will eat the little fish; the leisure of the college creative writing instructor will eat, with its stream-of-consciousness intelligence, all other fish in the blindness of the infinite, William James/nitrous-oxide, sea.
Most of the blame lies with other arts, those more emeshed in the machinery of crass, pornographic, violent sensationalism, but all are guilty, for instance, in the way the film Bright Star was ignorantly reviewed and received in all quarters, and in countless gestures among intellectuals, poets and artists everywhere who whore out the ideal in small ways every day.
After all, there are only, finally, two things: nature and the moral; nature provides the building materials; we build. How we build is moral and ideal. Confusing the two—nature (reality) and the moral (the ideal)—tends to be where all the trouble starts.
Building a house keeps the two distinct.
Making art does not; this is why Plato famously questioned the latter activity.
Nothing shall oppose the onslaught of the ignorant, the oppressive, the violent, the backward, the pedantic, the cynical, the horrific, and the stupid.
And why should anything oppose this onslaught if our art will not?
The license to describe the thoughts inside our thoughts inside our thoughts is the one ruling principle today, and we have become a slave to it. We have surely caught the self-justifying, William James/John Ashbery disease. The vanity of infinitely self-reflexive thought is the only trump in our deck. Stream of consciousness has drowned common sense. “Enough of this nonsense!” we want to cry, but we dare not, because we really believe that educated nonsense is our last freedom, the last thing between our intellectual legitimacy and the absolutist wolf at the door. We don’t mean good satire. We mean nonsense, the obscurantist crap which passes for poetry these days. We’ve confused freedom with crap.
This treatise is not a cry for any kind of censorship, but rather a discussion of how opposing censorship at all costs affects aesthetic philosophy.
And so we shall have paintings that are not paintings, poems that are not poems, music that is not music, criticism that is not criticism, and prose that is self-indulgent in its trivialities to an extreme degree; we shall have the daintily lurid, the sweetly sensational, and the brazenly corrupt. The criminals shall have their way because to poets today criminality cannot exist in theory; wrong exists only in reality where cops and robbers are even now having a gun-fight, far from modern art’s purities.
But now the lords of cultural fascism cry, “Poems that are not poems!” You are the fascist, trying to tell us what a poem is! But we cannot write a poem if we don’t know what a poem is first, just as Michelangelo doesn’t just start randomly hacking away at the block of stone. The lords of cultural fascism will always steer the discussion back to simple-minded issues of censorship, but in reality the issue here is about pedagogy.
True, poetry has made itself so obscure that its effect on society hardly exists when we exclude the thousands of Creative Writing aspirants.
Not making good art, thanks to the license in which every kind of bad art is permissable—and thus, forever, actual—hurts millions in ways we cannot imagine.
Will the obscurantists wake up? Will the wild and wilder drums wake them? Or thrum them into a deeper sleep?
Roll over, Black Mountain.
Tell Ashbery the news.