Some Sort of Manifesto
This was emailed to me with the subject "for wetasphalt." The return address was info at wetasphalt.com and the whole thing was in plain ascii text with no signature or any other identifying marks I could discern. Additionally, when I tracked back the IP addresses it seemed to have been sent from a remailer running on a BSD machine somewhere in Indiana connected to the internet via an inflight wi-fi service used by a number of commercial airlines. That is where the trail ends. I don't know quite what to make of it, but I found the whole thing pretty interesting so I figured what the fuck, I'll publish it. I have corrected some punctuation here and there, and fixed numerous spelling errors (so many that a big part of me suspects that Eric is the one that sent it to me, although the obsessive interest in aesthetic moments would seem to indicate this is the product of EL Borgnine, although I'm pretty sure it's not him. If it is, well, it's nuttier than it seems). It is otherwise unaltered from the text as it was sent to me:
The Quiet American Grows Quieter.
Consider that the avant garde is over. Whether you believe this or not is immaterial. Hold it in your mind like a crystal of hypothetical possibility that may or may not explain the prismatic severing of the world you live in. Consider that it is over.
If it is over, then it is in fact not a sociological or cultural occurrence. It is rather a historical occurrence.
If it is historical, it is fixed in spacetime at some point and with some people in some shared past that we are remembering and talking about but not ourselves experiencing. All of this follows from the nature of history.
What was the avant garde? The Quiet American believes it is the modernist obsession with the new that grew as an aesthetic value from the observed benefits of progress in science and engineering that had so recently altered the world through industrialization, mechanization, and mass communication. Under such a confluence, the Quiet American grew very noisy indeed for a good long while.
Except nothing is new. Not even saying nothing is new is new. Nothing is new is OLD. Bible old. Old Testament Bible Old. Ecclesiastes. 4th c. BCE Old. People were saying nothing is new to the baby jesus and when they were saying it they knew for a fact that people had been saying nothing is new to new generations over and over again from time immemorial. And yet Jesus did not drive a car. So at some point the car was new. Confucius never ate a fortune cookie either. Note that Jesus and Confucius are singular who were made into machines of mass production. Cars and Fortune Cookies, by contrast, are mass produced and interchangeable and through use only become symbols of individual fate and freedom of movement.
But why the value in the new, in progress at all? Is this, as some have claimed, an evolutionary step rather than a revolutionary one? Has the desire for novelty in whatever form it may take not a shift of culture but actually an ongoing shift of species? This strikes the Quiet American as somewhat preposterous.
Consider though the rise of the value of novelty. When did it come about? It came about with Industrialization. With the direct conversion of capital into ever more efficient means of production requiring ever greater enslavement of the individual worker to the machines of industry.to scrape together his meager crust. Novelty is a value that exists because capital requires it to exist. If I have everything I need, I will not buy new goods unless they are valuable simply for their newness. We have everything we need. We have always had everything we need. And yet the Quiet American like all others in this cursed mobius strip of capital exchange is trapped. We cannot move for the weight of the capital we must accumulate to meet our standard of living requirements.
Consider that by mid century, it was painfully obvious to most of the smarter monkeys in the barrel that the whole new is better thing was a bit of a swindle. They're the ones who revived Qoholeth from the ashes of history and brought his words new meaning. By returning again to the old meaning. There is nothing new. Here come the free interplay of signifiers in hyperreality, woohoo isn't pastiche and collage so much more fun than originality? Isn't music better when it's being played by a DJ rather than being played live? That's why this is Rock and Roll, after all, and there are all these white boys covering colored boys songs so that the kids can take the cover of the white boys' cover and swap it for the cover of the colored boys record, and boom mom and dad are none the wiser that this shining white pat boone face on the sleeve is not in fact the sexually ambiguous shrieking singer on the turntable wondering whether miss Molly would like to BOne? Did he say Bone? Is that Black boy singing about raping white girls? No mother, look, it's a white boy talking about Molly. See, There it says right under Pat Boone's name, "Good Golly Miss Molly."
Consider that this post modern epoch followed on the heals of the lost generations modernism with the beat generations pomo sexually ambiguous drug addled meanderings that eventually gave rise to the Baby Boomers inheriting the earth and fucking everything up.
And that's so played out now that The Quiet American feels mildly nauseated just to have brought the problem up in the first place. No.
No. What is left is not what is left. What is left is the rejection of the new rather than it's abandonment. Rather than various post modernist strategies to escape into the realm of the new through artful recombination and sourcing of materials. Not realizing that this was the same thing every creative person has ever done ever, but that is not news for the hippies who believe they invented everything from Batman to butt-sex, but did nothing of the sort.
No. What is left now is not what is left. What is left is the reclaimed legacy of artfully ignoring how new something is in evaluating it. This then is a return to standards that who cares what they are so long as they are reasonably permanent.