This World or Another

At the time of writing, a couple of weeks before publication, the Trump election is everyone’s topic of discussion, and the content of that discussion can get pretty intense—intensely apocalyptic in some cases. I’ve been putting in my own opinion on Facebook, and I’m as involved in communal life as anyone, but I’m also on a binge of reading P.G.Wodehouse, the Jeeves and Wooster books. Is that escapism? Maybe, but it’s an escape to something more fundamental than political hysteria. Wodehouse is clever, funny, and very artful; on occasion he also offers a more or less profound truth. Take this passage:

“I had seen this man before only in the decent habiliments suitable to the metropolis, and I confess that even in the predicament in which I found myself I was able to shudder at the spectacle he presented in the country. It is, of course, an axiom, as I have heard Jeeves call it, that the smaller the man the louder the check suit, and old Bassett’s apparel was in keeping with his lack of inches. Prismatic is the only word for those frightful tweeds and, oddly enough, the spectacle of them had the effect of steadying my nerves. They gave me the feeling that nothing mattered.”

But he’s just finished proving that many things matter—clothes, colour, taste, style. That final sentence is striking but also easy to pass over, even to miss. What does it mean anyway? I think I’ve had that experience, in a moment of stress. Or felt that if only I could win through the struggle of life I could allow small things to matter again. Anomie, indifference as the highest stage of aestheticism—the political arguments against a life in art, especially abstraction, are already in place. But the place where “nothing matters” is also the place of freedom, and not only for art. It’s not that nothing matters, it’s just that the available choices don’t make any difference—like the choice between Clinton and Trump. Once you see that, new possibilities for action arise.

Robert Linsley, Collage #9 (first state)

Robert Linsley, Collage #9 (first state)

In the first stage of this new collage, the biggest yet at 60×48″, a black space breaks through the frame. It’s a lot like #7, also in vertical format.

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