What Duchamp brings into view with the readymade is an overlooked implication of the formalist reduction of the art object to pure form: the possibility, henceforth, of apprehending all objects, and not merely those that arrogate to themselves the designation of “art,” as detached signifiers. This happened around the same time that the Futurists were proposing that the acme of modern beauty is the machine. For the Futurists this mostly meant the displacement of traditional subject matter by depictions of force and velocity. Duchamp took the decisive step of replacing depiction by appropriation. In so doing, he forced upon art a confrontation with its own redundancy insofar as formalism had reduced its function to formal invention. For at the formal level, the inventiveness of art is as nothing compared to that of modern industry. The nominative authority of the artist revealed by the readymade is in itself of secondary importance. The greater significance of the readymade is to force upon modern art the unintended consequences of its fetishization of form.
Why is Duchamp intent on abolishing “retinality”?
Explanations that dwell on his animus against painters and painting miss the point.
What is implicit in Duchamp’s opposition to retinality and what his invention of the readymade insinuates is that the aesthetic qualities of an object no longer determine its artistic value in a society in which exchange (market) value has supplanted every other.
The readymade is, perhaps, the boldest artistic demonstration that rarity is the fundamental determinant of exchange value and that rarity can attach itself to any object by the mere fact of its being signed (nominated, branded) by a recognized name. Significantly, Duchamp–and following him, those who have exploited the concept of the readymade–took care to refrain from conferring the status of readymade promiscuously. The readymade would seem to confer upon the nominating artist the power of the Midas touch, but overproduction would collapse demand.
Like Nietzsche in relation to the Christian god, Duchamp does not kill the aesthetic object as much as reveal it to be already dead. The aesthetic object (art sanctified as Art, as object of pure aesthetic contemplation detached from any ritual or practical use), oddly enough, comes to prominence at the same moment as the commodity form. The apparent paradox here is that art asserts its uselessness, its “autonomy,” most aggressively at the very moment that it is transformed into pure commodity. In reality, it is just this declaration of autonomy, just this assertion of Art’s uselessness for any purpose other than “contemplation” that makes Art the commodity sans pareil.
Henceforth, the worthiness of this useless object is conferred by the whims of speculators not by qualities intrinsic to the object. It is the activity of speculation itself that this privileged object comes to embody. The readymade is art’s abrupt and traumatic recognition of this truth. Authorship of the Art object no longer belongs exclusively to the artist–it never did but the myth of artistic genius had occluded this. The readymade goes as far as any Art object could possibly go to declare that its value is entirely determined by speculative demand. It is is in this very precise sense that a “death of the author” occurs. The artist remains the originator of the work but like one of Duchamp’s “bachelors” in the Large Glass, acknowledges that his ejaculations can only reach the Bride (the repository of objects recognized as Art/commodities) via the interpretive mediation of the viewer. The prominent role assigned to the viewer/interpreter as co-creator in Duchamp’s work and that of other anti-authorial authors should really be understood as recognition of the overriding importance of the market in determining the value of the artist’s work.
The democratization of art, the abolition of the distinction between “high” and “low” that imbecilic academic critics routinely profess to find in the readymade is but a ruse. Exactly the opposite is achieved: The readymade is an exquisite means for making the common uncommon, for making the unoriginal unique, for making the worthless into a luxury. It is to the vanity of the moneyed viewer seeking both profit and validation as sophisticated connoisseur that the readymade addresses its appeal for interpretive support. Like bourgeois democracy itself, the readymade’s conferring of “rights” (in this case, the right to an interpretation) on all is but the necessary condition for ensuring the dominance of the few. The readymade’s “generosity” to the common viewer is a cover for its whoring itself to the needs of financial speculation uninhibited by aesthetic considerations.
Duchamp’s desublimation of the Art object updates realism to encompass not merely “real” objects but also the subordination of Art to commerce–which like a high-class prostitute selling “love”, Art goes to great lengths to hide from view.
The reproduced photograph somehow always reaches us as a cliché: it bears within the very economy of its circulation a fading of its effect. This weakness of photographic realism does not have anything to do with the aesthetic revulsion that Barthes in “Shock Photos” claimed to experience when viewing atrocity photographs tainted by the overzealous rhetorical intervention of their moralizing authors. Barthes’ precious aestheticism displaced onto photographers a fault that actually resides in the very nature of the photographic image. For the published photograph, even on first viewing, always intimates the uncanny feeling that it belongs to a type we have seen before, but it intimates this not because of any specific aesthetic deficiency on its part but because of its very reproducibility. From the moment of its publication, indeed, from the moment of its inception, the photograph joins an effluvium of banality.
As Walter Benjamin had already grasped in 1936, photography destroys distance but also devalues what it brings closer to its avid consumers. The stripping of the world, its pornographic exposure to the public gaze grants effortless access to the farthest recesses of the earth and even makes visible features that the unaided human eye could never apprehend (such as the gait of a galloping horse). But this unhiding of the world, this forcible unveiling–which is part of the larger scientific project of quantifying the visible–also reduces the object of its attention to a flattened and ultimately insipid representation. Photography becomes a fetish that magnifies the domain of the visible at the expense of what exceeds the visible. It functions, alongside other technological marvels, as a means to profane and miniaturize the world, formerly a source of awe, now diminished to what fits inside an iPhone screen.
What never occurred to Barthes is that the very nature of photography implicates it in atrocity. Had he really wanted to find shock in a photograph he could have found it in the way every photograph, no matter its intention, contributes to the profanation of the world, to the loss of its transcendent dimension.
The true deficiency of photographic realism, like that of modern realism in general, is that it is impotent against the chronic unreality of the modern world that this realism seeks to counteract because this peculiar condition derives not from lack of forensic records of modern life and its atrocities but rather from the modern world’s disconnection from the sacred. The modern world, reduced to a strictly material world ruled by money and infested by the human worms that money breeds, is a world in which nothing is sacred and therefore nothing is of any significance. Realism’s attempts to give a true “objective” picture of this world only adds to its squalor by dimming whatever remains of the memory of a different world inhabited by a different and nobler humanity.
The photograph, a marvel of representation, enters the world precisely at the moment that the world becomes unworthy of representation. The result is that photography proceeds to desecrate whatever still retains the slightest connection to the sacred, winkling it out of the obscure places in which it had survived and making a meal of it for the consumers of modern “spirituality.”
The monochrome testifies to a recognition of painting as an action, i.e. as coverage, as work, as performance. It is a repudiation of painting’s pictorial relevance after the medium cedes representational primacy to photography. The monochrome proletarianizes painting by making the production of a painted canvas all but indistinguishable from the craft production of a painted wall. And yet, with repetition, the meaning of this gesture, so radical in its implications, is inverted, and the monochrome becomes instead the sign of an extreme aestheticism. In this, I think one glimpses how modernism failed: it was meant to be a transitional aesthetic, a bridge to a future in which art would no longer be distinguished from the productive activity of the emancipated worker, but this future never came, and with repetition modernism’s radical gestures became mannerisms. And its products, profane receptacles for the ill-gotten gains of oligarchs.
Ultimately, Russia-gate is yet a variation on the tired old theme of American innocence. If something goes wrong, it can’t be the fault of decent Americans who, as we all know, are too good for our deeply flawed world. Rather, it must be the fault of dastardly foreigners trying to hack our democracy. It’s a deep-rooted form of xenophobia that has fueled everything from the criminalization of marijuana (smuggled in by evil Mexicans) to the 1950s Red Scare (a reaction to Communism smuggled in by evil Russians), and the war on terrorism (the work of evil Muslims). The idea that America may in anyway be responsible for its own fate is of course unthinkable.
But Russia-gate may be the greatest delusion of all. After decades of celebrating Donald Trump as the essence of American flash and hustle, the corporate media have decided that the only way he could have gotten into the White House is if Putin put him there. The upshot is a giant conspiracy to force Americans to turn their back on reality, an effort that can only end in disaster for all concerned, Democrats first and foremost.
We look to form to succor us from chaos. The palliative form need not possess anything more than the vaguest trace of organization. It can be the statue of Athena or the jazz tune Roquentin hears at the end of Nausea. Or, it can simply be the representation of formlessness itself for that representation is already a victory over the abject, a removal from it. The more immediate the threat of disintegration, the closer the aesthetic object will approximate the very thing it defends against. This is why in the modern period art is driven to simulate its own absence—as the last recourse against the disappearance of the last trace of meaning in a profaned world where the total dominion of quantity threatens the catastrophic desublimation of all objects.
For at least a century, beauty’s most felicitous relationship has been with merchandising, not art. Today, one is more likely to come across something beautiful in a mall or in front of a screen than in a gallery or museum. Consumer economies run on eye candy and are remarkably good at manufacturing it. The best creative talent is enlisted in the making and marketing of sexy consumables. The fine arts make do with the spoiled children of the rich.
This was already evident when Duchamp proposed an upturned urinal as an entry in the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibition. The truly shocking thing about Fountain was not the nomination of a urinal to the status of art but the much-slower-to-sink-in actuality that a mass-produced urinal might be as beautiful as a Brancusi.
In other words, with hindsight, Duchamp’s gesture appears realistic rather than nihilistic. It acknowledged that industry had robbed art of its privileged relationship with the aesthetic. If art was to remain fixated on beauty, it was obliged to express this fixation by the practice of framing as art what was already readily available as commodity, via what came to be known as appropriation.
How could the idea of fine art survive Duchamp’s gesture? There was simply too much cultural and financial capital invested in the idea of art to permit it a graceful exit. What’s more, by emancipating art from overt social function, modern art endowed the art object with the potential to achieve close to limitless speculative value. This is what the avant-garde ultimately contributed to modernity: a new type of commodity, at once empty and unique and, by virtue of that combination, the most desirable commodity of all.
Modernity is anonymizing, atomizing, patricidal. It involves a vast uprooting from land and community, an unmooring from all the coordinates that used to sustain a sense of orientation and self-worth. The modern fetishization of identity is an attempt to replace by self-nomination what used to be assigned by fate, caste and tradition. It is a poor replacement, as evidenced by the violence with which these synthetic identities need to be continuously asserted.
While it is fashionable to equate contemporary identitarianism with a renewal of tribalism, the analogy does not bear examination. In the tribal unit, identity is bestowed by the tribe and marked by rituals that firmly establish the subjugation of the individual to the larger entity. In contrast, self-declared, voluntary identities are narcissistic declarations of exemption from both reality and social obligation. Nothing could be more removed from the spirit of tribalism and its reverence for tradition and ancestral authority than the glorification of childish identities cobbled together from self-aggrandizing phantasms.
Rather than a “regression” to tribalism, identitarianism symptomizes in the form of mass psychosis the advance of the social disintegration inaugurated by modernity.
Art history is fiction, a compilation of nice stories people tell themselves because they want to believe that there is a logic, a progression, that links one style or trend to the next. There is indeed a logic, but it is a crude one, too crude to ever concern professional art historians. The logic of art history is determined by whatever at any given time and place captivates the rich and powerful. It is solely their whims that art, understood only as art, signifies.
The problem for the modern artist is that the rich and powerful no longer actually voice their whims or explicitly direct the artist to do their bidding. On the contrary, they insist that the artist should be solely guided by his vision, even to the point of appearing to be contemptuous of bourgeois taste. Like game fishermen, they want the fish they hook to give them a fight. In reality, no transgression that articulates itself within the frame of art can in any way threaten the bourgeoisie because bourgeois taste is quintessentially a taste for vapid novelty. Shocking the bourgeoisie and pandering to it have always been one and the same thing. Hence the masochism that characterizes the avant-garde’s most “radical” gestures. The performance art of the last 50 years or so (actually going all the way back to Dada) is full of spectacles of artists subjecting themselves to torturous and debasing ordeals. Why? Because the closest that art can come to stating the truth about itself in the modern era is to repetitively stage its own debasement, beyond which it cannot advance. A positive art, a sacred art, would be an art that served a consecrated culture and would therefore be an art that no longer had the qualities we associate with art since it would be bereft of the false autonomy of bourgeois art. The condition of art today reflects the impossibility of either art or the society that encloses it achieving sacredness. Instead, they both dwell in banal sacrilege, and art is forced to vomit as aesthetic spectacle the evidence of its impotence.
The very notion of history is a product of the profanation of culture. For history embodies a linear notion of time that marks the loss of contact with the eternal, which is radically timeless. Sacred art has no history. It does not progress. It can only be incorporated into art history once it has become a dead thing, a husk abandoned by the spirit.
Michael Fried’s stance against “theatricality” and the literalization of the art object can be read as a last-ditch defense against the impending symbolic destitution of the art object. The literalization of the art object (whose reduction to formal object was already an impoverishment) transforms it into something that imposes itself on the viewer as a physical ordeal. But this literalization, this debasement of the object, is inevitable once the premodern symbolic order in which it used to be enclosed, and from which it derived its metaphysical meaning, disappears. This becomes fully evident when the literalized, debased object is the body. Literalizing the body involves subjecting it to endless masochistic indignities in an effort to establish its strict materiality, its total instrumentalization. Chris Burden’s early performances come to mind. Or Marina Abramović’s. Or Ron Athey’s. Or countless others. Why this compulsion to debasement? Because it reenacts the impoverishment that all objects suffer when nothing is left of the sacred and the entire world has been profaned and reduced to just so much material, i.e. to pure quantity. The putative de-aestheticization of art does not bring “art” closer to “life.” It brings it closer to shit.
The claim that pornography ruins marriages is more than risible; it inverts reality. Most middle-class marriages would likely not survive without it, middle-class marriage being the graveyard of sex. Pornography is a pacifier, the opiate of the contemporary male libido. It is the soma of the middle-class drone.
Since the will to dominate is integral to virility and since women crave dominant men, the possibility of gender equality is nil. Equality between the sexes would require nothing less than the eradication of the sex drive of both parties. This should explain the fundamentally puritanical nature of feminism.
Every modern “advance,” every “emancipation,” contributes to a retreat into infantilism. Once everything formerly accepted as fated and immutable is recategorized as purely conventional, the very possibility of nobility is extinguished because the foundation of nobility, Nietzsche’s amor fati, is made meaningless. Instead of developing the rigor to face and embrace fate, one indulges in ceaseless experimentation, deferring forever the assumption of a serious attitude toward life. Whenever difficulty or discomfort present themselves, the ready availability of an alternative choice subverts any inclination to fortitude. With every obstacle, one simply veers to avoid it, until evasion becomes habitual. Thus, all the supposedly empowering advances bestowed by secularism and technology turn out to have a profoundly disempowering, diminishing effect on character and, indeed, on the human organism as a whole. We see the destructive results on multiple fronts: in the extreme reduction of attention span and concentration dubbed Attention Deficit Disorder (in actuality, a condition so pervasive that it constitutes the current cognitive norm) no less than in the mania for gender “reassignment.” What these and numerous related modern disorders attest to is the failure of the modern subject to leave behind the plasticity of childhood and its seemingly infinite but unrealized potential. Understandably, this universal affirmation of the inner child goes hand in hand with the radical negation, the nullification, of the paternal function. In a world, in which nobody is required to grow up, fatherhood in both its actual and symbolic form is redundant. The modern world is, in its essence, the world without a father.
When contemporary ninnies complain of toxic masculinity, they are not entirely off the mark, even if they remain oblivious of the implications.
Masculinity becomes toxic when the complexity and attendant fragility of a society grow to the point where the male libidinal drive becomes too disruptive to accommodate. Such tightly regimented, dense, automated, networked societies require subjects that must increasingly approximate to genderless automatons.
Freud had already observed in Civilization and Its Discontents that the level of interdependence and collaboration that social life demands would be impossible without the repression of aggression. This was always true, but modernity pushes the instrumentalization of the human organism to the point where the modern subject must be completely stripped of any inclination that might ever so slightly misalign it with the Borg-like corporate hive that encloses it. Inevitably, this translates into an aversion toward every manifestation of refractory masculinity.
The early modern worshipers of the machine did not foresee this. To Marinetti, the machine promised hypermasculinzation, an amplification of the most primitive virility. What it delivered instead was a wholesale gelding of Western man, his transformation into a species of hermaphroditic worm. And it is these invertebrates who today declare that masculinity is toxic, for to them the sight of a man can only convey an intolerable rebuke.
Walter Benjamin’s reflections on the impact of automation on the art object are pertinent to a consideration of what happens to the sexual object and its displacements in the modern era. I think one can speak of both an industrialization of sexual relations and a sexualization of industry.
The “industrialization” of sexual relations is well-illustrated by the stream of drawings, paintings, and objects produced in the early part of the 20th century by Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp that depict coitus as the coupling and grinding of machine parts.
The same images, of course, also depict the sexualization of industrial processes. But where this sexualization of industry achieves real significance is in the erotic allure that attaches to the commodity, the endowment of everything from cars to computers with a sexual aura.
Modernity coincides with a widespread hypersexualization of objects and bodies. This is a new thing. We are not talking about what to the ancients would have constituted beauty. Something else is introduced, which Marx called commodity fetishism, whose full meaning needs to include the sexual connotation.
What comes into view as peculiar to modernity is the simultaneous sexualization of production and consumption. On the consumption side, the commodity induces something like a sexual mania in the consumer. Modern consumption acquires a distinctly onanistic character, at once addictive and unsatisfying since like masturbation, compulsive consumption can only function as what Freud characterized as an “otiose” substitute for heterosexual intercourse.
The upshot is that consumer society is in essence a society of wankers.
Money, then, appears as this distorting power both against the individual and against the bonds of society, etc., which claim to be entities in themselves. It transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into idiocy.
Since money, as the existing and active concept of value, confounds and confuses all things, it is the general confounding and confusing of all things–the world upside-down–the confounding and confusing of all natural and human qualities.
He who can buy bravery is brave, though he be a coward. As money is not exchanged for any one specific quality, for any one specific thing, or for any particular human essential power, but for the entire objective world of man and nature, from the standpoint of its possessor it therefore serves to exchange every quality for every other, even contradictory, quality and object: it is the fraternisation of impossibilities. It makes contradictions embrace.
Today, the money-enabled “fraternisation of impossibilities” visible to Marx in 1844 challenges even the division of the sexes. The fact that progressives hail the overcoming of the gender “binary” as progress just confirms that they are capital’s useful idiots.
Taken on its own, the claim that gender is a social construction is a triviality. All distinctions whatsoever are ultimately social constructions. What is significant is only the moment when they begin to appear as such. When a culture begins to apprehend itself as merely a culture, its tenets and tastes as merely prejudices, it is moribund. The “deconstruction” that ensues is the labor of maggots.
It is not the constructedness of gender that the transgender fad reveals but the power of consumerism to transform anatomy into consumer choice. Everything that was default, natural, is made unnatural, subject to customization, available as paid option.
Those who would free us from the last vestiges of patriarchy are in actuality delivering us into the grasp of the mutagenic corporate Borg. Once it is removed from the patriarchal order that dignified it, the body becomes a machine whose parts can be altered at will. Transgenderism is but the logical expression of this desacralization of the body at the behest of the capitalist drive to reduce all of nature to product.
To support its self-regard, the elite needs to associate itself with whatever is uncommon. In the arts, for instance, the elite patronizes just those artists and designers whose work is inscrutable and even repugnant to everybody else. Thus the modern phenomenon of the avant-garde. But, elite snobbery expresses itself in moral as well as aesthetic taste.
Just as the elite patronizes the artistic avant-garde, it also supports what at any given moment pass for avant-garde attitudes, preferences, and lifestyles. The actual content of whatever ideas the elite embraces matters little because these ideas never serve the elite as anything more than fashion accessories. Outré ideas, ideologies, philosophies are easily embraced because easily discarded. The more perverse-seeming the idea, the greater its potential for displaying the elite’s extraordinary discernment. Thus, the same class of people who lauded Marcel Duchamp nominating a urinal to the status of art in 1917 today support a man nominating himself to be a woman and vice versa.
Progressivism has a longstanding association with snobbery, going at least as far back as the female-run salons of the 18th century that nurtured Enlightenment thought. In that particular instance, fashionable ideas did ultimately have unpleasant consequences for the silly blue bloods who entertained them, proving that the world is not entirely devoid of justice.
This “Cultural Marxism” that conservatives like to invoke as the source of every cultural outrage is really just a mask for the anti-cultural agency of capitalism itself. Progressivism has always nicely aligned with capitalism’s drive to dismantle all traditions that impede the absolute supremacy of money. This is why patriarchy and masculinity are objects of unrelenting progressive assault. For money to rule without restriction, all residual patriarchal notions of honor and integrity had to be discredited as outdated and oppressive. Unable or unwilling to comprehend what Marx had already figured out by 1848, that capitalism profanes everything formerly holy and turns everything solid “into air,” the right responds by invoking nostalgia for a slightly less developed less-monopolistic capitalism and wishing for the restitution of pre-1960s ideals of masculinity. Someone like Jordan Peterson, for instance, is reduced to advising his readers to clean up their rooms, stand straight, and refrain from telling untruths, advice that any schoolmarm might in the past have dispensed. He too rails against “Cultural Marxism,” but avoids noticing how well the evil designs of this phantom Cultural Marxism mesh with the requirements of corporate-driven consumerism: how, for instance, feminist and queer claims about the constructedness of gender feed into making gender a commodity, how the conscription of women into the labor force has undercut wages and benefited corporations, how identity politics has fractured the working class and disabled its resistance to capitalism.
So the net effect of “Cultural Marxism” has actually been to further entrench the globalist corporate order. Where is the “Marxism” in that?
The moderns I admire are those whose signal contribution to modernism consisted in devising means to portray the squalor of modernity. I have in mind T.S. Eliot, J.K. Huysmans, L.F. Celine, James Ensor, George Grosz, Otto Dix, Nathaniel West.
It is a disgusting modern conceit that assumes as a matter of course that we know better than our premodern ancestors, whose reverence for “myth” in our eyes renders them naifs.
The truth is that we are the intellectually impoverished ones, unable to apprehend anything beyond what is accessible to our senses. And yet, we regard this blindering, this hobbling of intelligence as proof of our superiority over the ancients, whose vigor, acuity, and strength of character far exceeded our own.
The “aesthetic” consequences of an idea offer good indications of its validity.
What is latent in an idea, covered up by appeals to sentiment or resentment, is exposed by its realization. An idea whose products are malformed, poisonous, ugly is revealed as a noxious one, irrespective of the high-minded arguments in its favor. Conversely, noble ideas are recognized by their ennobling effects. Most modern ideas that promise “emancipation” or “empowerment” have yielded freakish results. No further evidence should be needed to condemn them.
If you want to get the true measure of a civilization or a period within a civilization, examine its artifacts. It is what a civilization leaves behind when it can no longer speak except through its residue that justifies or condemns it.
An authentic traditionalist has to be willing to accept that tradition is in modern terms indefensible. The modern mind is a stunted apparatus that can only acknowledge and comprehend what is measurable. The eternal verities transmitted by tradition will not fit into the confines of this apparatus and would only be nullified by any attempt to force them into it.
In the same way that tradition is rationally indefensible, modernity and its abominations are rationally irrefutable since today reason has at its disposal only the vocabulary of utilitarianism. It is, for instance, pointless to look to genetics to disprove the pernicious doctrine of the social construction of “identity” because that doctrine is itself but one expression of the instrumental outlook upon which modern science is founded. After all, it is science itself that provides the surgical and pharmacological means to alter gender and, beyond that, the means to artificialize the human organism at the cellular level. These means today are glorified as “empowering,” as demonstrating our overcoming of the harsh cultural boundaries that hedged in our benighted ancestors. But what they actually indicate is the toxicity of modern science, whose effect is to render us ever more artificial and, therefore, ever more fragile. Thus, what we misconstrue as empowerment is actually the enlargement of our susceptibility to extinction.
Faith in tradition seeks no modern validation because it is fully cognizant of modernity’s evanescence. The freak menagerie assembled by modernity is not a harbinger of the future but an indication that modernity has no future. What will refute modernity will be its own perishing. Indeed, is modernity anything but a perishing?
The empirical validation of some fragmentary remnant of tradition always comes too late and counts for very little. This is because the truth of tradition is eternal, i.e. outside duration, invariant, primordial, whereas empiricism is always bound by the limited interval of observation and can never prove or disprove any principle that operates in cycles of a breadth that exceeds that interval. The modern conceit is that whatever resides outside the possibility of phenomenal observation is unknowable. It ignores and devalues faculties receptive to other, and superior, forms of knowledge. Consequently, there is something childlike about the enthusiasm that greets the occasional scientific validation of some truth that tradition understood implicitly, as if tradition had all these millennia been waiting for modern science to come along and give it a proper grounding. For instance, one can only be amused by the importance currently assigned to the scientific validation of sexual difference, a validation utterly trivial when compared to the vastly richer knowledge of sexual difference and its implications available to the ancients.
The wisdom of tradition is not amenable to empirical validation. Today, this wisdom can only reveal itself negatively, via the dismal consequences of what has replaced it.
I sympathize with victims up until they become professional, sanctioned victims.
Anytime I run into a professional victim, my involuntary response is that he or she needs to be reacquainted with whatever they claim to be a victim of.
Part of what constitutes our decadence, or maybe is the very essence of our decadence, is our cowardice in the face of ugliness, our willingness to compromise with it.
We know the difference between ugliness and beauty or we would not mount arguments against the unfairness of the distinction. But we are compromised: we cannot uphold beauty because we cannot uphold unfairness.
Now this would seem to be an inevitable consequence of what we call democracy given that beauty stands out because it is uncommon and that its appreciation must therefore slight the common. The antagonism between democracy and beauty is confirmed by the fact that the bulk of the beautiful things that have been handed down to us and that we take care to preserve were produced under decidedly inegalitarian and authoritarian conditions.
More fundamental to our predicament is that fairness is absent from nature, which is innocent of any notion of universal rights, and that our modern idolatry of fairness is, therefore, an expression of a radical alienation from nature.
Beauty and naturalness are intimately connected to the degree that beauty could be said to represent nothing else than perfect naturalness and the necessity that we perceive in naturalness. Conversely, ugliness and unnaturalness are synonymous. It follows that the affirmation of beauty is possible only alongside an affirmation of the order of nature.
Therein lies the root of the modern antagonism toward beauty. For modernity recruited its promoters and adherents by promising an emancipation from the constraints of nature. All our investment in the empirical sciences has been driven by that promise–which science has more than fulfilled but at the price of rendering us, its late beneficiaries, into wholly unnatural creatures.
The horrific mutants and aliens that populate sci fi are us. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a vision of what post the ascension of the bourgeoisie, Western man was becoming.
Modernity is in its very essence the triumph of unnaturalness and ugliness. It is the age of the freak.
And this is why beauty has fled from us, and why we are powerless to resist the ever-more-hideous abominations that science and technology foist on us, be they misgendered and transgendered beings, architectural obscenities, or abysmal manners.
Today, ugliness has rights. And beauty is a detestable privilege.
And yet, we have not successfully eradicated all beauty. It lingers as our bad conscience, as a repressed awareness of our degradation. And to that extent, it lingers as our death drive, for deep down we loathe our ugliness and seek our own extinction, the means to whose realization science has also mercifully bestowed upon us.