13 June 2007

Humboldt's Gift

The title of today's post is one-and-the-same with Saul Bellow's book, from which I, not coincidentally, will now quote extensively.

Humboldt and Charlie, our two main characters, are talking. Or rather, Humboldt is talking (as always) and Charlie is (predictably) listening. Humboldt has been going for a while already and Charlie knows this rant well enough to see certain sections coming.

And at this point Humboldt generally spoke of Antonin Artaud. Artaud, the playwright, invited the most brilliant intellectuals in Paris to a lecture. When they were assembled there was no lecture. Artaud came on stage and screamed at them like a wild beast. "Opened his mouth and screamed," said Humboldt. "Raging screams. While those Parisian intellectuals sat frightened. For them it was a delicious event. And why? Artaud as the artist was a failed priest. Failed priests specialize in blasphemy. Blasphemy is aimed at the community of believers. In this case, what kind of belief? Belief only in intellect, which a Ferenczi has now charged with madness. But what does it mean in a larger sense? It means that the only art intellectuals can be interested in is an art which celebrates the primacy of ideas. Artists must interest intellectuals, this new class. This is why the state of culture and the history of culture become the subject matter of art. This is why a refined audience of Frenchmen listens respectfully to Artaud screaming. For them the whole purpose of art is to suggest and inspire ideas and discourse. The educated people of modern countries are a thinking rabble at the stage of what Marx called primitive accumulation. Their business is to reduce masterpieces to discourse. Artaud's scream is an intellectual thing. First, an attack on the nineteenth-century 'religion of art,' which the religion of discourse wants to replace . . .
pgs. 31-2


Just thought it was interesting and passing it along. I've been thinking of all kinds of equivalent 'stunts' that artists have pulled. Empty galleries, performance art of any description, Warhol’s movies. And yeah, I half expect that they did it to see if people would stay in their seats.


Grandpa Dan said...

You better be working on the thesis this hard. Wow, this is the last week of the semester and then you put two long posts up. Take it easy lady but do not take these down until I get a chance to look at them at the end of the week. 1433

Terra said...

Societies view on art always makes me think of the story of the "Emporers New Clothes" Everone knows it's stupid and they should lleave but no one wants to be the one to admit that they can't see a message in the art.

Mary Ann said...

I don't know--I mean, that's not what I meant. There certainly are examples of what you're equating with the naked emperor, but I think there really is a lot of real merit in with the mix.

grandpa dan said...

I like pulling stunts like this maybe I should have been an artist or maybe some artists like pulling stunts too. A normal part of deviancy in the artist population.