Since all the arts (dance, opera, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, etc) began radical experimentation around the turn of the twentieth century, ‘the absurd’ (the absurd!), ‘satire’ and ‘shock’ have been used to explicate what artists were up to — without the need to engage the particular ways in which they presented their work. In this way, any artist could be run together with any other, or any number of others, since each of them had the same objective condition (the absurd) and the same lack of subjective foundation and conviction (on account of the absurd) and nothing substantial to say (ditto) and therefore no occasion for their work (ditto).
In the event, all that could be expressed was this lack of occasion: “The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express”, as Beckett put it in nuce.
The resulting act of production, together with what is produced, could be called ‘satire’. This was the obligatory hiccup indicating that the artist was aware of the utterly unhinged “obligation” of the creative act. (Any artist not so conscious was not an ‘artist’ at all. He, or she, was a moron.)
In this situation, the one thing that could differentiate artworks, and so be used to rank them, was the question of how much notice they received. The achievement of such ‘notice’ could be called ‘communication’ and, as had been found in advertising generally, required ‘shock’. For what does not shock, aka reset perception in some way, however momentarily, cannot be said to have been noticed.
In this way, the resetting of perception, or at least what was taken to be the resetting of perception, became something normal and one-dimensional (as Herbert Marcuse had it from Heidegger). In modern life, nothing became more everyday than shock since everything, in the universal quest for attention, was shocking. (But genuine shock, as the fundamental resetting of perception, became obscured and, in general acceptance, impossible.)1
In sum, all real art was thought to express a fundamental absence of occasion and great art was what somehow motivated its audience, even and exactly in the event of that absence, to take out their wallets. Or at least something of their passing attention.
it was remarketable (FW 533)
Art and advertising had become the same. But if someone like McLuhan pointed this out in so many words (cf ‘The Age of Advertising’, Commonweal Magazine, September 11, 1953), he was an ignorant jerk.
- The death of God — as an objective genitive! — was simply the determination that all human experience, including all possible resets of experience, was locked into a small range that excluded the experience of God or, indeed, even the experience known by one’s own grandparents. This was, of course, stupendously ignorant, and lazy, but was what had become of modern humans. ↩