Many (although not all) of the works on this site presume a high degree of autonomy of the artwork. We aesthetic nihilists disagree with the historical avant-garde desire to “integrate the artwork into the fabric of daily life.” That is a utopian desire, and this is not a utopia. To see a shovel leaning against a garage wall doesn’t pose questions of meaning for the viewer. To see one leaning against a gallery wall provides the viewer with the option of fashioning playful, timely and possibly critical questions. There is no question that the semi- autonomy of the artwork is no more than a social fabrication, but it’s a useful one.
There are two related categories of artworks:
- Artworks that want to integrate with non-art or daily life (solve problems, seek or claim the truth, use the language of propositions, say things that the artist believes.) The artwork should have a counterpart or a function in daily life.
- Artworks that hold to their separateness (feel comfortable saying things that are either strategically not true or about which the artist is fundamentally uncertain, removing the artist’s beliefs from the art reckoning). In this concept of art, the artwork has no equivalent in daily life.
“[One of the mistakes of literature is] that literature should voice a truth already possessed by politics; that is, to believe that the sum of political values is the primary thing, to which literature must simply adapt itself.”
— Italo Calvino
Many (although not all) of the works on this site assume that nihilism is a critical and possibly epic human achievement (there is no god, and there are no foundations). It’s no doubt true that it’s not possible to live ethically with nihilism on a day to day basis, nor can we reasonably expect it to operate as a social and political orthodoxy. Nihilism, which may be corrosive in the public sphere, is nonetheless wholesome and healthy when expressed in the artwork. Artworks are sacred places where the profane can thrive. Many (although not all) of the works on this site see it as vital that we regularly revisit its truth-function, and this occasional stopover in the realm of nihilism can make a modest contribution to intellectual psychotherapy.
Similarly, most (but not all) of the works on this site openly promote uncertainty. We aesthetic nihilists assume that the inability to accept or to be able to cope with uncertainty and conditions of unknowing lie behind a tendency to believe in unknown powerful forces (gods) or to imprudently accept the illegitimate authority of known powerful forces. A task of the artwork would then be to explore the conditions and the experience of uncertainty and nonknowledge, in order to demonstrate its potential for creating a space beyond doctrine.
We do not presume to change the manners of men (sic), but we hope to demonstrate the fragility of their thought.
— Antonin Artaud
Many (although not all) of the works on this site will remind us that, like belief, access to meaning has the ease of a self-service cafeteria. For the epistemologically privileged, we can get whatever we want, wherever we go. (A category in the 4 th edition of Roget’s Thesaurus, my favorite book: “latent meaningfulness”.) The artwork, on the other hand, having made its peace with pointlessness, may not know what knowledge is, but it knows what it isn’t. The artwork recognises that before you can understand anything else, you have to understand unintelligibility. Actual meaning is an accomplishment, but so is meaninglessness. The artwork gives form to meaninglessness.
Many (although not all) of the works on this site have disinvested from the belief industry. And from the redemption industry. The artwork is the privileged place of the epoché – the suspension of belief, where we can go to temporarily detach our beliefs and our convictions from our narcissism, in order to see what remains. In order to see if we deserve each other. Artworks are the dreamworks of beliefs.
I meant nothing by “To the Lighthouse”.
— Virginia Woolf
Nonsense, largely unrecognized as such, is common in art practices (although by no means all art practices). Its value lies in how it invokes a logic of school & not-school. There is a pedagogy (there is always pedagogy), but nonsense sides with the inquisitively distracted schoolchild, not the teacher.
Many (although not all) of the works on this site assemble conventional signifying elements (images, words, concepts) without providing them with an identity, and without providing the viewer with a blueprint for their organisation. These signifying elements, which ordinarily are placed in sensible meaning-producing configurations, are here placed in a fluctuation- generating machine – kind of like those furious paint-mixing machines, except that here the paint never gets mixed – which animates the elements in a type of random, primitive Brownian motion.
(Some help is clearly required with the idea of nonsense and pre-meaning. The following has been squeezed, with great liberties taken, from Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense. A proposition Deleuze says, has three relations: designation, its relation to a state of affairs; manifestation, a relation to the speaker; and signification, a relation to other propositions and concepts. One can then postulate a place where these relations or conditions do not (yet) exist, and from where propositions of all kinds might be said to draw their originary material. Deleuze somewhat paradoxically calls this realm “sense”, but it is sense without shape or definition, or without temporal, or causal conditioning. Non-nonsense, or sensical, propositions (conditioned for meaningful communication) shed these relation-less preconditions as they assume definition, taking on the attributes of manifestation, designation, and signification. Nonsense ´propositions´, however, do not. They carry the shapelessness of pre-meaning forward, as it were, into the realms of articulated language and image, producing the irrationalities, paradoxes, reversals, circularities, decontextualizations familiar in nonsensical discourse.)
Everything I write is true, but so what?
— Edouard Lévi
There are two forms of irony:
- The literal meaning is not the intended meaning. But there is a specific intended meaning.
- The literal meaning is not the intended meaning. And there isn’t a specific intended meaning.
Many (although not all) of the works on this site indulge the second form.
Preface: There are two ways of walking down the street. One is to let it be what it is – a heterogenous, collage-like experience. The other is to restrain the heterogeneity of collage and, in its place, experience the familiar through selective perception.
Most (although not all) of the works on this cite take the collage-form for granted. But – so sad – collage as a form is no longer radical. There are ways to salvage some (although not all) of its former splendidness. One is to do collage differently, or better… whatever that means. The other is to push it into parataxis (the juxtaposition of items with no evident relation to each other). Some of the works on this site (although not all) attempt a picturesque form of parataxis.
In any kind of place there is a tarp to cover it and it is a pleasure at any rate there is some venturing in refusing to believe nonsense.
— Gertrude Stein