Monday, August 14, 2006

"almost everything was explained"

As I’m painting lately, I’ve been listening to an audio-book recording of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. It occurs to me that certainly, had Bulgakov not been persecuted, censored and maligned in the Soviet Union, he almost certainly would have been awarded the same honor in the West. The Master and Margarita is so utterly subversive as to shock even my rather un-shockable eyes.

I can't help but think this strange writing must have somehow found its way into the thinking of the great Latin American writers who followed. In many cases, the influence would be seemingly as impossible to deny as would the influence of say Gorky or Gogol on Bulgakov himself. But at one point I was wondering if I could deduce some rules or tips toward understanding contemporary art in light of this art, written as it was, in the first acerbic foam of modernism's failure, a failure that many seem yet to have grasped. For as the Soviet experiment failed, it seems clear to some of us, the American has now also.

Part of that failure surely has been in Kuspit described in the quote I pulled a few days ago. Neo-conceptualism, according to Kuspit, "strips art of unconscious import, reducing it to institutional site specificity and social objectivity, indeed, into a token case of an ideological or theoretical position." Bulgakov had written a screed of unconcious import, at once surreal, outwardly critical and creatively dynamic.

I can almost hear, if not actually feel, the snear that Joanne Drucker would greet something like Fisher's Complicit My Piehole post. Like the official art that Bulgakov parodies to the point of transcendence, Drucker's exhibition and very thesis is a neo-conceptual capitulation against life and against art in favor of an official "token case of an idelogical or theoretical position." Part of that token theoretical position must be that one can make "meta-art" without first and or at least simultaneously making art. This is really what Bulgakov got me to thinking. His is certainly an art within art, fiction within fiction about fiction, and poetry and creativity. Manuscripts do not burn, but official theorem is like flashpowder. Neo-conceptualism is the Socialist Realism of right now.

I'm not going to spell out much more on the antagonistic warfare being fought between pop-culture capitulators and high art defenders. The masses know perfectly well what is the difference. I think that Bulgakov would be not at all surprised to see so many official artists towing the line that official art has to do with official dichotomies, token ideologies, token theories. The not-so surprising thing about the conservativism of "neo-conceptualism" is its reliance on experts with no, or very little experience of art portraying themselves, almost religiously, as experts in "Art."
Image is from the Russian Bulgakov site here. A nice list of available online works is here.

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