Michael Zahn sent along some thoughts, images of wonderful new work, and Susan Sontag’s article on the Aesthetics of Silence. A quick chat and a deep read later and feeling more human. SO in the hopes that you’re all well and at ease in your quarantine – here’s a quote from the article, and it’s recommended you go and read Susan’s thoughts a bit longer, a bit slower, and with a bit of circumspection – link here or below.
Rimbaud has gone to Abyssinia to make his fortune in the slave trade. Wittgenstein, after a period as a village school-teacher, has chosen menial work as a hospital orderly. Duchamp has turned to chess. Accompanying these exemplary renunciations of a vocation, each man has declared that he regards his previous achievements in poetry, philosophy, or art as trifling, of no importance.
But the choice of permanent silence doesn’t negate their work. On the contrary, it imparts retroactively an added power and authority to what was broken off — disavowal of the work becoming a new source of its validity, a certificate of unchallengeable seriousness. That seriousness consists in not regarding art (or philosophy practiced as an art form: Wittgenstein) as something whose seriousness lasts forever, an “end,” a permanent vehicle for spiritual ambition. The truly serious attitude is one that regards art as a “means” to something that can perhaps be achieved only by abandoning art; judged more impatiently, art is a false way or (the word of the Dada artist Jacques Vaché) a stupidity.
Though no longer a confession, art is more than ever a deliverance, an exercise in asceticism. Through it, the artist becomes purified — of himself and, eventually, of his art. The artist (if not art itself) is still engaged in a progress toward “the good.” But whereas formerly the artist’s good was mastery of and fulfillment in his art, now the highest good for the artist is to reach the point where those goals of excellence become insignificant to him, emotionally and ethically, and he is more satisfied by being silent than by finding a voice in art. Silence in this sense, as termination, proposes a mood of ultimacy antithetical to the mood informing the self-conscious artist’s traditional serious use of silence (beautifully described by Valéry and Rilke): as a zone of meditation, preparation for spiritual ripening, an ordeal that ends in gaining the right to speak. [Susan Sontag The Aesthetics of Silence]