Friday, November 23, 2012
Here's the link to a review of the book 'Pataphysics: A Useless Guide --
Back in the seventies, I got hooked on the band Pere Ubu. I got curious, and because of that band I did some research. I found out about Alfred Jarry. That dovetailed nicely with my appreciation of a book I had read a year or two previously -- A Night of Serious Drinking by Rene Daumal, who was a pataphysicist.
I also appreciate how Jarry influenced and enriched the arts and literature of Modernism and beyond. But...his anti-system is still a system. A totalizing form of being, despite its claim of absurdist granularity, its stance of alienation from all types of normality.
As I age, I grow more aloof from my earlier attraction to schemes of existential darkness. I'm still a somewhat dark being, but rather than acquiesce in allures of nihilism and surreal revolt, I've arrived at a different station of attitude. I choose to seek venues of beauty (yes, even dark and strange beauties) as antidote to creeping cosmic nothingnesses. As a personal way of reaction to persistent strains of normality that the pataphysicists also strove against.
Yes, I count 'Pataphysics as one of many versions of nihilism. To me, it is another circumscription instead of a freeing or an opening. I've just grown weary of the negative as artform. That's why I have no use for the films of Tarantino -- violence for entertainment's sake. Even the widely celebrated Godfather movies are repellent to me. I have no use for the filmic glorification of cheap thugs, warped souls. But I'm drifting from my topic. Sorry.
Back to Jarry. And back to beauty.
Settling on the absurd is a kind of living death. However oppressive and constrictive the conventional, choosing to live inside a manifesto doesn't strike me as revolutionary enough. Jarry and his attitudinal descendants were, I think, as much anti-beauty as anti-convention. How much beauty -- how much of aesthetic substance -- can one find in the poetry of the Beats? Not very much, I think. But why beauty?
Art, music, dance, and literature (especially poetry) can be vehicles of exploration beyond the confining gists of absurdism and the concretions of irony. Aesthetic attitude is a tunnel of light boring through not only the granite of normality but also of giddy anti-systems and anti-attitudes.
A dream is a fully free thing. It continually opens onto ungoverned prospects. And so does the aesthetic attitude. Beauty is a wakeful dreaming into alternative reality. Beethoven, Van Gogh, Bruno Schulz, the Bolshoi Ballet, Tomas Tranströmer -- here can be found ways of living in which aesthetic moments become stranger, deeper than any surrealism and any irony.
I would like to dream that the aesthetic is an echo of something eternal and essential. That anything exists at all a kind of aesthetic determination or expression coming from who-knows-where. And even if it's simply a finite human gesture, it's a gesture of peculiar light and not laughing night.