The Wound

The critics I respect are the ones who hurt me the most, or let’s say that they stick their fingers in the wound that already exists, the one I received from the great artists of modernism. The notion that one becomes an artist by a process of wounding is a very old one, and there are plenty of literary examples, but right now I want to acknowledge Boris Groys as a critic who consistently threatens my assessment of the value of what I do. Someone like Buchloh is only irritating, because his polemics are merely an invitation to debate, a debate that one can easily win on theoretical grounds but never socially, hence always feels like a waste of valuable time. Groys is much stronger; you can’t debate with him, or pick fault with particulars of his argument, only respond at depth. I was initially attracted to a recent book, Introduction to Antiphilosophy, because I wanted to learn about Lev Shestov, the subject of one chapter. As it happens, Shestov’s relationship to philosophy was also as one of the “wounded.” Shestov is truly frightening, and at the moment I’ll play it safe and cite another chapter, on Lessing, Greenberg and McLuhan:

“Modern artworks arise from a discussion, even a struggle, between competing, often antagonistic, artistic programs – a struggle that is highly polemical, and often accompanied by insults, complaints, accusations and outbreaks of rage. Even art that sees itself as autonomous has arisen from a struggle of this kind. The outward appearance of the images in question, however, only hints that they want to say something, that they have arisen as arguments in a discussion. The halls of today’s museums of modern art therefore often convey an atmosphere of embarrassment and even obscenity…People are faced with images that seek to say something, but fail to do so…Words are absent, but the grimace of the desire to speak remains…”

Interesting that if they could speak, modern works would not offer theory or philosophy or art criticism, but “insults, complaints, accusations and outbreaks of rage.” These muffled energies struggling to break out are non-conceptual—feelings, visceral and instinctive—but entirely social. I would call them demons. However the demons may appear to a viewer, an artist experiences them as compulsions, as states of possession. But all this is so close to my own ideas about the literariness of abstraction that it’s not funny.

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