“The average man is destroying beauty. The average man no longer looks into another man’s eyes. Everyone is afraid . . . sometimes I think the only way to save the United States is by going somewhere else–just as the ancient Greek philosophers fled to Asia Minor and Italy.”
José Esteban Muñoz, whose work has been an enormous influence on my own, died on this day two years ago. I recently came across an issue of Social Textdedicated to him which included this poem — an ode, even — by Jean-Luc Nancy:
Rauschenberg’s handwritten notes for his performance Pelican (1963), with choreography instructions for dancer Carolyn Brown on recto and notes for the accompanying music, a collage of sounds composed by Rauschenberg, on verso. Pelican was first performed at Concert of Dance Number Five, an evening of performances by Judson Dance Theater, Pop Festival, Washington, D.C., May 9, 1963
Manuscript, 1 page, double-sided, 11 x 8 1/2 inches
Item 11 in Aspen no. 3, the Pop Art issue, is The Plastic Exploding Inevitable, the Factory’s one-shot underground newspaper, which includes the following from Jonas Mekas:
The terror and desperation of CHELSEA GIRLS is a Holy Terror
No doubt most of the critics and “normal,” audiences will dismiss such films as Chelsea Girls as having nothing to do either with cinema or “real” life. It is becoming apparent that there is a complete misunderstanding about the role of the artist in a society. Some critics would like to relegate him to some sweet and innocent corner of our life. Most of the critics and viewers do not realize that the artist, no matter what he is showing, is mirroring or forecasting also our own lives. The terror and desperation of Chelsea Girls is a holy terror (an expression which, I was told, Warhol himself uses in reference to his work): it’s our godless civilization approaching the zero point. It’s not homosexuality, it’s not lesbianism, it’s not heterosexuality: the terror and hardness that we see in Chelsea Girls is the same terror and hardness that is burning Vietnam and it’s the essence and blood of our culture, of our ways of living: this is the Great Society.
Those who hate or dismiss Warhol’s work because of this terror in it, hate it for what they should really praise in it: for being able to portray some essential truths about ourselves. As I have said a number of times before: it’s not the artist that is failing today: it’s the critics that are failing by not being able to explain the real meaning of art to man. These works, once understood and embraced, would become rituals of Holy Terror, they would exorcise us from terror.
— JONAS MEKAS writing in the
Village Voice, Sept. 29, 1966.
This hidden history of pessimism, a history moreover that lies quietly behind every story of success, can be told in a number of different ways … I tell it here as a tale of anticapitalist, queer struggle … This is a story of art without markets, drama without a script, narrative without progress. The queer art of failure turns on the impossible, the improbable, the unlikely, and the unremarkable. It quietly loses, and in losing it imagines other goals for life, for love, for art, and for being.