I see no reason for an
introduction, no reason to ease you, the gallant reader, through
three cozy and coddling paragraphs, chummy with ingratiating
adjectives and warm-hearted with anecdote, to get to the kill.
Where we are going it is better to leap. Straight to the ninth
circle of hell, fourth ring. Judecca. The Pit. Where Lucifer
licks his lips.
We have descended through fire and
darkness, and already we have arrived. Our guide (not Virgil but
Vincent, in a pale-blue peasant frock clogged with paint) points
through the vapors and mists and we see the Blackest Souls of
All, buried in mid-gasp in the solid blue ice, not even a nose
poking from the freeze. We look for acquaintances, old
junior-high teachers, maybe, or CEO's. Even they do not merit
such distinction. But soft, what soundless pool of Cocytus lies
here, awash with bodies moving not, speaking not, speak though
they would? Our fiery-haired guide van Gogh enlightens us: ah,
they are the art critics. See, there is Ruskin, a farthing
frozen to each eyelid. And Greenberg, staring ever at the lovely
flatness of the translucent surface only iches from his face.
And what is this? Arthur Danto, like Fra Alberigo and Branca
Doria, still alive on earth but already in hell? Van Gogh
"This icy place you see, my
friends," he says, blowing smoke and patting a crushed
velveteen cap that sits on his head like a toy dog, "this,
the inmost ring of the inmost circle, is reserved for traitors
against their benefactors. The art critic is dependent for his
livelihood on what field? Art, of course, Eh? Certainly. And
art is created by?—yes, artists. We alone, fidus Achates.
Well then, as Socrates might
continue, what is the primary product of the field of art?
Criticism or art? Art. Can art exist without criticism? Yes.
Can criticism exist without art? No. Artists, as a whole, make
possible criticism, and thereby the critic. Reasonable, Eh!
Donc, the artist en
general is the benefactor of the critic. Logically, no
critic would be here for attacking an artist. That is to say, an
individual artist. This is clear. Clear as ice, n'est-ce
pas? A critic is a traitor only by undermining art as a
whole, purposefully, for his own gain. Only by attacking the
history of art, the foundation of art, and thereby all artists,
is a critic a traitor. Only in this way does he become the
damned of the damned.
"I have Danto's file right
here," continues Vincent, taking a swig of absinthe from a
sweating flask and grinning like a sky of stars. "Full of
the most horrible heresies, shocking really the level of
presumption that one man can attain, but only one document is
necessary. Necessary and sufficient, one might say. The book,
Embodied Meanings, the Introduction, page 12. Alors,
after telling us that he moved from philosophy (as a university
professor) to criticism because 'I wanted to become famous in a
way which went beyond having a reputation among philosophers,'
Danto said this:
thought in particular that Warhol (though not Warhol alone) had
brought within art the question of its true philosophical
nature~namely, how something can be a work of art while something
else which resembles it as much as Brillo Box resembles a carton
of Brillo, is not art. That is like asking how two experiences
can be exactly alike while one is dreamt and the other real.
Nothing internal to the pair will account for the difference....
One needs a theory of the real, against which to talk about
dream, in the one case, or art, in the other. And it struck me at
some point with the force of revelation that this problem could
not have been raised as a philosophical problem within art at any
earlier moment in the history of art: it was as though there were
some internal historical development in the course of which art
came to a kind of philosophical self-awareness of its own
identity. In a curious and somewhat perverse way, I thought, art
has turned into philosophy.... From now on the task is up to
philosophers, who know how to think in the required way.
"If it were not in print,"
adds Vincent, toothing his pipe and peeling paint from his tie,
"no one would believe that a man could leave such
incriminating evidence. C'est incroyable. To be so
transparently self-serving was once a sign of poor writing, a
tactical failure, if nothing more. And a sentence like the next
to last one is positively Freudian: does the phrase 'in a curious
and somewhat perverse way' modify 'has turned' or 'I thought'?
What do you think, Eh? Comique? And yet all this stands
unquestioned on earth. Danto is famous, as he wished.
Vincent seems to lose himself for a
moment as he adjusts and readjusts his cap, like a fetish. "See
this chapeau? Drole, no? I won it off Duchamp in a game of
chess. The man has no imagination. He plays like one of your
modern robots. Zip, zip, zip, I hit him with some moves he won't
see in a book and he's finished. Forty years learning a lousy
game and he can't even beat a stupid Dutchman. That's hell, Eh?
But where was I? Ah oui, le petit litterateur. Mes amis,
does it take a dead artist to see the level of sacrilege involved
in a philosopher seeing himself as the end of art's 'internal
historical development.' It is a 'revelation' to Danto that the
question of art being subsumed within philosophy could not have
been raised until he, a philosopher, raised it. Tres bien!
"When he was brought here,
before the judges, he whimpered in cross examination, pointing
his finger at the white-haired one, that it was not him, but
Warhol, who raised it. But we reminded him of page 7, ibid.,
where he bragged, 'I was the father of that theory.' Danto
cannot argue that he is mis-contextualized or 'judged from a
detail.' He contextualizes himself for us, merci, in this
his own introduction, admits that this is where his fame lies,
explains his own theory. He says: 'A whole history is finished.'
And 'A great narrative ended in 1964.' Quoi? What was
1964? Page 7 again: 'I was invited to talk on the philosophy of
art at the American Philosophical Association meetings that
year—it was 1964—though I'm afraid nobody much understood
what I was trying to say.'
Oh, sans doute, someone
understood, have no fear. See that three-headed fellow over
there slobbering on Brutus and Cassius? He understood.
"Oh how!, mes confreres,
how can a non-artist, a man never touched by the Muse, a chandala
for all the Muses, how can he replace inspiration with cognition,
replace doing with thinking, redefining history around his only
ability, and find himself heroic for it? He has helped kill a
thing of beauty for the aggrandizement of theory, and he revels
in it. Il l'amuse. But let me quote," says Vincent,
now sputtering with the cold, waving his arms and skating across
the ice in his huge muddy clogs over the very heads of the inert
critics, "Let me quote one of the other tour guides
down here, a chap who went mad at the same time as me, another
benefactor of that fellow Danto [Danto has also written a book on
Nietzsche, but there is no double jeopardy in hell, no double
Nature, which gave the bull his
horns and the lion his chasm odonton [his mouthful of teeth], why
did nature give me my foot?...To kick, Holy Anacreon! and not
only for running away; for kicking to pieces these rotten
armchairs, this cowardly contemplativeness, this lascivious
historical eunuchism, this flirting with aesthetic ideals, this
justice-tartuffery of impotence.
"Mon Dieu!" yells
Vincent, getting down on his hands and knees to face the entombed
cube of Danto, caught forever immobile in a vast leering grimace.
"Art is not theory, you pompous bastard! Do you hear? Art
is Emotion! Art is Passion! Art is making art. Idiot!
gets up and looks around, stomping his feet. "Where is
Cellini? If he and I could have just one more round with these
fellows before the Big Guy gets them. Salauds!
"Benvenuto! Leave Pollock
alone and bring your fists over here, you great Baboon! Oh well,
we don't have time to melt them out anyway. But this ice is too
good for them, I say! Diables! Frozen are you? Hah! Is
freezing punishment for a man whose ability to love is already
gone, like hoarfrost? A man who can admire only his own
eyeballs? Let him live! Let him live to see his precious
theories ridiculed by those who can create, and will, no matter
how many of his ilk say "all that" is over. Let him
live to see a frozen block of marble, merely touched by
Michelangelo, or a weave of linen dusted with oily dirt, merely
brushed by Rembrandt, outlive him over and over and over. Let
him wander like Ahasuerus, till he comprehend the true reach of
"Yes, I have read your filthy
pages," snarls Vincent, going back down to the ice and
shaking his gnarly fist at the critic. "I know you: 'Until
one tries to write about it, the work remains a sort of aesthetic
blur,' you wrote. Pah! Absurdites! Stuff and nonsense!—the
man who would teach us how to see art, cannot see art. He can
think about art, but cannot feel it. Art is not analysis. It is
synthesis. Creativity! Yes, for us artists, a work of art is
actually more powerful than its verbal retelling. Only for you,
the all-too-many, the lastmen, Les Nains, is art
indecipherable. You must make do with the pathetic agon between
non-artist and non-artist, the cackling of critic to critic."
With that, Vincent stuffs his hat in his pocket
and wanders off to find Friedrich in the Second Ring, leaving us
to climb back to the surface unescorted. Through a fissure in
the rock we squeeze into the present at Pietrasanta, and I mail
this report at the first Italian postbox before getting back to
work. And you? Quo vadis?
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