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The Phoney Avant-Garde. . .

PURELY CONTEMPLATIVE NIHILISM is no more the special province of artists than is modern reformism. In fact, neo-Dada lags way behind the misadventures of the commodity-economy itself -- every aspect of life today could pass as its own parody. The Naked Lunch pales before any of the mass media. Its real significance is quite different. For pop art is not only, as Black mask remarks, the apotheosis of capitalist reality: it is the last ditch attempt to shore up the decomposition of the spectacle. Decay has reached the point where it must be made attractive in its own right. If nothing has any value, then nothing must become valuable. The bluff may be desperate but no one dares to call it, here or anywhere else. And so Marvel comics become as venerable as Pope. The function of neo-Dada is to provide an aesthetic and ideological alibi for the coming period, to which modern commerce is condemned, of increasingly pointless and self-destructive products: the consumption/anti-consumption of the life/anti-life. Galbraith's subordination of economic to aesthetic goals is perfectly summed up in the Mystic Box. "Throw switch 'on.' Box rumbles and quivers. Lid slowly rises, a hand emerges and pushes switch off. Hand disappears as lid slams shut. Does absolutely nothing but switch off!" The nihilism of modern art is merely an introduction to the art of modern nihilism.


5. The Intelligentsia Split in Two

THESE TWO MOVEMENTS -- THE ATTEMPT to reform the spectacle and the attempt to arrest its crisis as purely contemplative nihilism -- are distinct but in no way contradictory manoeuvres. In both cases, the function of the artist is merely to give aesthetic consecration to what has already taken place. His job is purely ideological. The role played today by the work of art has dissociated everything in art which awoke real creativity and revolt from everything which imposed passivity and conformism. Its revolutionary and its alienated elements have sprung apart and become the living denial of one another. Art as commodity has become the arch-enemy of all real creativity.

THE RESOLUTION OF THE AMBIGUITY OF CULTURE is also the resolution of the ambiguity of the intelligentsia. The present cultural set-up is potentially split into two bitterly opposed factions. The majority of the intelligentsia has, quite crudely, sold out. At the same time, its truly dissident and imaginative elements have refused all collaboration, all productivity, within the forms tolerated by social power and are tending more and more to become indistinguishable from the rest of the new lumpenproletariat in their open contempt and derision for the 'values' of consumer society. While the way of life of the servile intelligentsia is the living denial of anything remotely resembling either creativity or intelligence, the rebel intelligentsia is becoming caught up in the reality of disaffection and revolt, refusing to work and inevitably faced, point blank, with a radical reappraisal of the relationship between creativity and everyday life. Frequenting the lumpen, they will learn to use other weapons than their imagination. One of our first moves must be to envenom the latent hostility between these two factions. It shouldn't be too difficult. The demoralisation of the servile intelligentsia is already proverbial. The contradictions between fake glamour and the reality of their mental celebrity are too flagrant to pass unperceived, even by those who are, indisputably, the most stupid people in contemporary society.


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