For me, the twentieth century is all about the science of the empty spectacle— and there is a science to the creation, maintenance, and created obsolescence of the empty spectacles which constituted most of the landscape of the twentieth century. Empty spectacles which work depend on what are called razzmatazz effects— large numbers of people gathered together in one space create the right kind of razzmatazz effects, for example, from sporting events to political rallies to popular music concerts. A crowd of 60,000 fans, gathered to see a football game, or Bruce Springsteen, is a decoy against the fact that both events have no real relevance in pushing the human mind, or the human race in general, forward. Both are set in place by the media to represent vitality, but the vitality is all surface level. Underneath the surface, there’s the dead, flat, quiet emptiness of what the twentieth century actually was. Which, by the way, would not necessarily be the case if the high sectors (science, philosophy, high art) kept up, and moved forward in the right way; in the twentieth century, they did not. A surfeit of razzmatazz was not balanced by the gravitas achievements which the human mind, when loosed by individual and individualized consciousness, is capable of.

In art, the twentieth century razzmatazz was all about movements which espoused a rhetoric of stunted thought, stunted emotion, and stunted intimacy between individuals— Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Modernism, post-modernism. The oeuvre of Andy Warhol actually bothers to announce itself as empty spectacle; but it is self-knowledge which points back, in a self-referential way, to its own desolate emptiness beneath the surface. Pollock, Rothko, and the rest land us in similar territory, as does Duchamp, before Warhol and Koons after. These artists are all, including Warhol, as quiet as they can possibly be, in their own anticipated obsolescence. They are empty spectacles made specifically, and in a purposeful way, to be destroyed into complete nothingness, like big crowds for sports and the like. Again, all is desolation beneath the surface. The fact that a book like Finnegan’s Wake, which is so blatantly a case of the emperor wearing no clothes that it begs to be laughed at (as does a hearty slice of Proust and Woolf), could be considered a twentieth century talisman, of real worth and boasting real literary gravitas inhering, is an indication of the essential school of quietude gestalt form of high art and high sector life in the twentieth century. Poetry in the English language more or less announced its obsolescence as well, as centrists wrote harmless greeting cards, and avant-gardists churned out gibberish, a simulacrum of something purposeful, but not involving thought, emotion, or intimacy between individuals somehow, on any level. Philosophy and science I will touch less; specifically because whether Deconstructionism lives or dies still seems like an open question, and science is not my field, though it is apparent that faux-science in the twentieth century was rampant too.

The twenty-first century has to be better. Some of us have already set a body of work in place, beginning with the Nineties, which assures this. The irony, and it is a major one, is that if this a century of substantial progress, the polarities may reverse, and the surface razzmatazz and empty spectacles of the twentieth century will at least partially disappear. The price to pay for profound depth is a surface which must, of necessity, be quieter, as real, permanently relevant noise is generated. It may be that, in the twenty-first century, the masses are at a loss as to how to amuse themselves— if governments choose to emphasize individuals and the high sectors, this will almost certainly be the case. The stadiums full of cheering fans will no longer find a prominent place in the national economy, the media will be tamed or disbelieved, and the school of quietude which was the twentieth century aegis or rule-book will invert into a century being, in a manner of speaking, avant-garde; standing in a place where boundaries are being destroyed and serious creativity is being pursued with vigor. Or, humanity being what it is, some of the empty spectacles will continue to balance what is happening in the high disciplines. Who knows? But I will say that, for this century to repeat the quietude of the twentieth is now an impossibility. Philadelphia in the Aughts and Teens has already decided that for the rest of the nation, and the human world.