Let's Get Metaphysical

My conclusion, as regards century XX art, and its flagship movements, Modernism and post-modernism, is that most of the art generated from Modern and post-modern impulses expresses an uncomfortable amount of absolute nullity: no formal beauty, thoughtfulness, or profound emotion inhere. Simplistic or pseudo-innovative forms are matched and enhanced by insipid dryness, anti-visionary deadness. One can then line up the usual Modern and post-modern suspects and begin to compose the dossier against them, as pseudo-artists: that John Ashbery’s poetry is largely an expression of absolute nullity, as is George Oppen’s, Jack Spicer’s, Ron Silliman’s, and the rest (San Fran Ren, Objectivism, Lang-Po all being offshoots). As a tangent to this, why several generations of American avant-garde poets have rejected English Romanticism is simple: John Keats and his brethren (minus dummy-ride occupant William Blake) were too involved in substance and something-ness: affirming the human mind and its imaginative capacities, while also engaging affect and its chiasmus with cognition: for those who care, writing serious poetry. The human nonce who is John Ashbery, receiving the cipher that is the Pulitzer Prize (Oppen won it too) perfectly expresses the century XX Zeitgeist: connecting nothing with nothing, as Eliot would have it (pardon the self-contradictory allusion), so that poetry might represent a world “beneath the earth,” so to speak, a world sans what makes us most human (for the human among us), and wise (lowly-wise or not) in our humanity.

What the Philly Free School artists have been doing for fifteen years now is acclimating our creative energies towards realities “above the earth,” rather than beneath it. The transfer of power from collar-and-chained New York to a Philadelphia that, in its architecture and generalized gravitas, is really something, is bound to be rocky, because, for those less human and humane, nothingness has its appeal. Yet, where high art is concerned, the city with the best architecture generally wins. Philly will wind up pummeling the hell out of NYC, only to find there was no one there to pummel. The NYC art mindset expresses, in its willingness to narrativize out of nothing, a totalized sense of nullity, cognitive bankruptcy; and, for those who have lived there, Warhol, Koons, and Schnabel are only the beginning. NYC bleeds dumbness. What PFS are looking for is a new, thoughtful, beauty-seeking, cognition-embracing something America, from Philadelphia on out. And Philly must accept (as a city which has an active nothingness quotient too) what has happened here, and how a generation of artists tapped into the durable cosmic, and committed their visions to the public sector in a bunch of blinding flashes; for, as Asians do say, Heaven on Earth is just as disruptive, if not more so, than Hell on Earth. Heaven’s sense of “something” forces people to think, and feel (just as Hellish nullity energies short-circuit cognition, and affect). So, the shock and awe around a changing America, from Philadelphia, may have to blend ecstasy and agony together for a while, or forever.