DECADENCE AND MONISM

Manet’s 1863 painting was highly controversial—and state-sponsored.

Seeing the many, there is always implicitly the monism of the vision; the most chaotic movie, for instance, of the most unifinished and disorderly nature, is still that movie, that one.

Thus the most avant-garde artist, wishing to escape monism and all the traditional trappings that goes with it, finds his most radical experiments neatly confined to a box with a pretty ribbon, and will forever be backed into a corner by absolute monism. 

To every gay and wayward lifestyle, rebelling against tradition at every turn, there must be an end, and in that end, a lesson intoned over the silence of the dandy’s grave by the unitarian priest, proudly puritan and pure.

The most radical thing the poet can do is deny poetry, produce a “poem” that is not a poem, yet call it a poem.  This “wrong”  attempts to escape monism with an avant-garde defiance of avant-garde difference.  But immediately the mind populates the avant-garde non-poem with primal poetic qualities that happen to be at hand; the “absence” is “filled,” and monism triumphs again.

The most radical avant-garde attempts fail: avant products are always absorbed by the enemy.  The avant-garde product always perishes in abstraction, for the abstract is a monistic concept.  The One is an idea that always wins in the end.

To assert yourself as outside the One is to become absorbed into it by that very assertion.

The avant-garde artist must try a different strategy, then, to be truly avant-garde.  How to triumph over monism?

The best way to triumph over monism is to invade it, to move roughly through it.  To mock it by imitation fails, for all imitation is finally flattery.

The monists themselves must be forced to define monism; the burden of proof must be thrown back upon the satisfied and content, and this done not by mere mockery, but by actual invasion.  Moral war is necessary if the avant-garde is to have any success.  The avant-garde cannot be nice.

The avant-garde did not begin until the state permitted it to exist. 

An ugly, fearsome tyrant lives in a handsome statue, a secret priesthood builds a temple, a poem mocks a king: these are examples of avant-garde beginnings, but they are not avant-garde, since in none of these examples is the state encouraging rebellion against itself.

Here is the great secret of the avant-garde: it is state-ordained.

Decadence is poverty and humiliation voluntarily promoted by the ruling class.  Decadence and the avant-garde emerge at the same time, for both are wanton by the emperor’s decree: naughtiness officialized.

Monism is finally befuddled and defeated by this: a paradox that is actual and worldly, not merely abstract.

Where in history does the avant-garde first emerge? 

In 19th century France.  Le Salon des Refuses was not a rogue gallery.  It was the act of an emperor, Napolean III.

Invasion: a naked lady on a picnic blanket with clothed men, all as merry as you please.

Invasion: A urinal in a museum.

Invasion: Soup cans in a museum.

You see the pattern? 

Not, X. 

X in a museum.

There is nothing theoretical about the avant-garde.  As soon as it becomes theoretical, it is no longer avant-garde. 

The victory of the avant-garde is a worldly, moral conquest from inside, a conquest that is state-approved.

The avant-garde art product never comes first.  The museum curator willing to receive it comes first.

The flag of Decadence supposedly flies over the wit of Oscar Wilde; but Wilde’s wit was sharpened by English Victorian reaction to the French avant-garde.  Wilde’s belief:—no morality is necessary because beauty is all—is conservative—and highly monistic.

2 Comments

  1. noochinator said,

    February 17, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    Speaking of decadence, this from a recent ‘City Journal’ piece:

    In the 1891 novel Là-Bas, by Joris-Karl Huysmans—the fin de siècle Catholic-convert novelist whose most famous work, À Rebours, was termed by critic Arthur Symons a “breviary of decadence” —decline takes the form of banality. The ennui-ridden writer Durtal, a thinly veiled self-insert for Huysmans himself, scans the Satanic underbelly of the Parisian demimonde as part of his biographical research into the diabolical Medieval rapist and murderer Gilles de Rais. Lured by his mistress, Madame Chantelouve, into a secret underworld of bored occultists and practitioners of lurid, orgiastic Black Masses, Durtal expects to find, among this seedy coterie, a transcendent kind of evil—something, if not good, then nevertheless intensely real: the same diabolism that inspired de Rais both to his atrocities and, ultimately, his racked repentance. But the Black Masses that Durtal attends in nineteenth-century Paris aren’t so much demoniac as—well—boring. Sure, naked women cavort on altars, and unspeakable things get done to profane the communion Host. This is a thoroughly middle-class Satanism, with minimal consequences for its disaffected participants. (“You know,” one of Durtal’s friends archly remarks, “It isn’t easy to procure children whom one may disembowel with impunity. The parents would raise a row and the police would interfere.”) Of the modern Satanist leader Docre, Durtal sadly remarks: “The bloody and incestuous side of the old sabbaths is wanting. Docre is, we must admit, greatly inferior to Gilles de Rais.”

    Huysmans’s decadence, and the decadence of fin de siècle France more broadly, is often remembered for its excess: sexual, appetitive, and otherwise. But the crime of decadence, for Huysmans, as for his contemporaries like Rémy de Gourmont or Barbey D’Aurevilly, was less about hedonism than anhedonia: the experience of utter disengagement from the world around them, and the transformation of all experience, including the corporeal, into hollow and onanistic aestheticization. Characters in Huysmans or Gourmont are more likely to fantasize in fetishistic detail about women they haven’t slept with than actually to approach them (to the chagrin, in many cases, of the women). Their Satanism, thus conceived, seems less evil than tragic: the attempt to summon something, anything, beyond the material world. In a Paris beset by the uncanny specters of transformational urban technology—gas lamps, grand boulevards rendering passersby visible, department stores full of lifelike mannequins, the expansion of the bourgeoisie—a Medieval Satan was a preferable alternative to, well, nothingness….

    https://www.city-journal.org/the-decadent-society-ross-douthat

  2. Desdi said,

    February 20, 2020 at 2:11 am

    I love Huysmans. I read Against the Grain first but La-Bas is even better. I had a French paperback with reproductions of the etchings by Felicien Rops. Very crazy:


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