"Does that mean", I said in some bewilderment, "that we must eat again of the tree of knowledge in order to return to the state of innocence?"
"Of course", he said, "but that's the final chapter in the history of the world."
Heinrich von Kleist, “On the Marionette Theater”
“With the passage of time and the intervention of newer, more difficult works, the artist's transgression becomes ingratiating, eventually legitimate. Goethe accused Kleist of having written his plays for an "invisible theatre." But in time the invisible theatre becomes "visible" The ugly and discordant and senseless become "beautiful." The history of art is a sequence of successful transgressions.”
Susan Sontag, “Aesthetics of Silence”
For a long time I had wanted to write you and to warn you as well about a certain young writer whose company I haunted while he was still alive and before his untimely departure for Siberia, where I’ve been looking for his sights already for a long time; now it would be presumptuous to believe that he’s dead and the idea itself is most repulsive – a writer that is posthumously born in anonymity by a human pen, on a free ride through the universe hopping from one tree of knowledge to the other as the possessor and professor of a truth so infinite that it cannot be grasped literarily, stretching beyond the limits of one’s own literality, an unsettling language of lips and lives. That there are places in the world that forbid the kind of language that is usually taken advantage of by literature, it is something I could never deny; there’s no longer an appeal in going into painful technicalities to describe an erotic scene that takes place in a public bathroom – this kind of fantasies are as devaluated as the currency of promises because the image is no longer unsettling or chaotic, it could speak for a lack of moral ambition but no longer has the paucity of a stare of fantasy. The favorite language of the artist is today a very simple perversion – silence, and it is nowadays perverted not because it has lost its age-old religious metaphors but because it is silence what constitutes the deliberate attack on the part of the artist against the society that has nurtured with bureaucratic care and loving excesses the pretensions of his own aesthetic debauchery, the aesthete is modeled not after the curious contemplation of an ever belligerent world but against its orderliness – inside out. This artist does not want to be read against the overwhelming innocence and fertile wordiness of an advertisement – in his natural apprehension to surrender to the world as will and representation (and what is the modern advertisement, if not the enshrining of the image as will and representation of the world but cleaned free from the serendipity of a Christian struggle?) he turns his mind to the only place safe from the certainty of the Cartesian window-shopper and the managerial inquisitions of publishers and galleries, it is a priestly geography of imperial capitals and flat worlds; while trying to distract the shopper from the raving madness of consuming his art (art is after all his only life, there’s no biography outside a work of art even when the work of art functions as a biography of unwillingness) he’s also actively engaged in making the reader or the spectator disappear together with his art in a transaction that transforms the artist into his own enemy – he wants to be no longer an artist and his silence is a fundamentally elitist and paternalist attitude that enables him to sit in the public, as unrecognized as a true Messiah but with the Pharisee demeanor of a false Messiah that refuses to produce art that is not for art’s sake (give to the Caesar what belongs to the Caesar) while lecturing the ignorant mobs about a correct reading of art – there’s no meaning in the chamber but only a paradox in which the empty room and the solid air of the vacuous space is supposed to stand in lieu of the most extreme aesthetic experience; the death of the Romantic writer turns out to be a most vivid confirmation of life whereas the silence of the modern artist, bereft entirely of religious pathos, cannot aim higher than the line between life and death, it is only extreme insofar as it is a desire to be noisily overheard amidst the thrift of raving noise.
Tundama Ortiz was one of these writers that being dead as he was (although he was born on the same year that I was) – and perforce of necessity silent, he was still able to sign copies of his books to the very select following that he had, believing what would have been unthinkable to the genius of Frans Hals – that the good works would reach their desirable public by means of a magic devise, perhaps it had to do with a more refined sexual morality than that of a Calvinist painter who sold the opprobrious looks of moral superiority to an aristocracy of refined taste that would pay for it the same way one would pay today in order to spend the night with a beautiful maiden – Tundama Ortiz was certainly no prostitute. I became aware of this that night when I became acquainted with him in that small room that served the purpose of his posthumous revelation to the world amidst the noise of glasses and flatteries, that are necessarily present as well in the funerals of writers, both good and bad ones. As a ghost of sorts he paved around flamboyantly greeting the hordes of guests in this untimely scenario and while he didn’t have any of the priestly traits of the ever so silent artists that scream out loud from a place of both fame and contempt, it’s the same transgression that pretends to elevate a form of art in the moment of its most critical destruction and it is a fine irony that one could say that destruction could be ever critical, as if it were not in a protest but through a laboratory procedure that the destruction is effected – trying to dismantle the work of art with such care so that it is still whole and possible. Moreover the problem with aesthetic destruction is that it can only last for a single moment, that’s why it is perhaps easier to embody in the pen of somebody else other than yourself, the terrorist writer becomes a subtext in a larger and more grandiose story that the living writer is telling and because he is at best only telling a story there’s still a chance for survival of the person – none of the promised boundaries of life have been eroded and therefore one shouldn’t be held accountable for the consequences of the unspeakable, the place of the sublime is still unmovable.
That night it appeared to me as a surprise that he could be a dead writer and this I didn’t learn from the book but from the natural talent of the writer to tell stories; one wonders time and again, why people who are able to tell stories, are ought to write anything at all! Maybe the answer is not that we are not understood but that we don’t necessarily want to be understood as we are but rather through a sequence of mirrors that make it impossible to resort to the silence we claim to practice but are in no position to demand from the world. The most suffocating ideal of aesthetic silence arises when a writer makes a deliberate choice for silence, looking at his craft as an intermediate step between the ultra mundane existence in unfreedom or constriction and the disappointment over the failure of art to meet his demands; the freedom in the choice of aesthetic silence could be a great deal of help if the renunciation would not come with the added value of guilt, not the typical case scenario of guilt about living and dying but rather the fact that even after Rimbaud went to Abyssinia and Duchamp turned to chess, they still considered themselves as artists in the most primordial sense. The silence is not abandonment but a continuation of the cycle of linguistic misunderstandings in which the use of language heretofore has become judicial evidence for the case against oneself in which, Kafkaesque speaking, the person stands as a puppet judge in his own trial. The transgression, even the transgression of Tundama Ortiz as a rather sympathetic critic of his own genre – and in this sense his renunciation is not different than mine, in my adamant refusal to write at all, has to turn at some point into an aggression not against the literary but against the literality of a life that is lived without writing and without telling but as embedded in the same language of scripture and writing as the advertisements and flatteries of sociability are. In theory we all should be able to write novels but we choose a management career over the writing of novels, this theory is most fallacious though because it seems that most men of letters who wrote novels did it almost against their own will as if the fact that one has to write a novel or a work of art at all only attests to something very lacking in the world of literality which is the favorite trope of the writer – unlike the philosopher who has outright condemned literality as untruth.
“It’s indeed a problem”, we used to say in the past as if speaking of the symptom of a well known malaise, when speaking of the fact that this unliterary literality seems to have the ability to walk at a pace much faster than that of beauty, while the irruption of beauty as a part of literality which begins as a transgression is at some point bound to become an ideal, the poets have been all too keen on explaining how it’s been them who taught men about colors and landscapes even before the painters did since in general poets are blind and painters are staring straight into the sun – both positions are very uncomfortable in life. The denial of art and its conventions for the sake of art itself seems like a confirmation of the powerlessness of the artist and the independence of his works from his own life, lest he turns to the world as a laboratory not of life but of work and when this happens, then his own life becomes ownerless. I only realized the extent of this powerlessness while talking to the young Raphaël, who surprisingly is still able to read Kleist for example, without being particularly harmed by life, and while I have so little respect for this attitude my jealousy is so overpowering that it’s turned into a silent admiration – I’m of the faith, as you are, that there’s no possible appropriation of Kleist unless it’s for the sake of armed and violent guerrilla warfare against the world, there’s no place for aesthetics there unless one has realized beforehand that the limits between the work and the artist are no longer stable and whenever the balance is shifted toward the work, the artist is forced to leave the world as we know it, its relationships of happiness and property and the ownership of ideals becomes illusory unless they’re embodied in an intensity of language for which the work of art is nothing but a bland footnote. It’s impossible to write without being unmediated harmed by life during the process and the exemplary renunciation of writing or of writing in one’s own name seems to overcome the difficulty not by avoiding harm but by placing it elsewhere, elsewhere outside and at a distance: it’s an Oriental prince who paints, it’s not me! It’s a philosopher who composes, it’s not me! It’s a writer exiled in Russia who sketches short stories, it’s not me! But you see, Raphaël, he reads Kleist, and he’s still himself! So completely assembled in reality in a way that has never been possible for me, reading without cruelty and without despair, translating within science and without bleeding, without exile and without war; do you think that it is maybe the reason why Tundama Ortiz chose Siberia?
I traveled all the way to Siberia to look for him without any other directions than some story he had told us that night about a friend and I tried telling the story to all the people that I had met along the way in order to find out whether they had heard it themselves; to my own demise every time I told the story I was sent in a different direction toward a person who was exactly like Raphaël and who reacted to me with the same calm, contentment of the eyes and certainty of fingertips, people who were able to read literature without having to respond to the challenge of being changed. That night when I met Tundama Ortiz I didn’t know Raphaël at all but overtime here in Siberia I’ve learnt pretty much everything about him, things that I can’t even tell you because they’re not exactly literal, it’s a story I’ve told you many times, how difficult it is to turn a person into a Cain when they no longer recognize the difference between life and science, between tree and tree, between word and word, world and word. I want to respond to friendship always with silence but in turn I respond with fruits from the tree of science that are mute enough to deafen any possibility of life, any offerings from the tree of life that demand nothing different from what God demands – to be infinitely unconscious and unfulfilled, precisely what all the Abels and the Raphaëls offer without demands. In Siberia you can make no difference between the trees because they’re all covered by thick layers of snow and then I thought that maybe this is what happened in Paradise, a confusion of tongues, an inability to translate affections, and this is why ever since we’re directed toward the unharmed as if queuing at the train, in between the stations, without destinies and destinations, only heavenly innuendoes and illiterate deliverance. My problem is not that the world was freed from God with whom I didn’t have particularly strong networking precisely because we demand from people just about the same, my real problem is that we no longer believe in the devil either, thus it can make no different which tree we choose and the result of this is almost always unequivocally the most terroristic devise of Christian theology: Life is eternal. This is the issue at the root of the silence of every modern form of art; death is no longer a charade to play on the Lord, it’s another commodity, the renunciation of life as much as the appropriation of science can no longer be a topic of conversation and as such, truth, unless be it topic of conversation, it can’t become a trope for art. That’s where the charm of an invisible theater is at home, the invisibility is the insurance against topics of conversation and once it becomes visible the transgression is over and with it the attention of the audience; there’s no audience for art without a modern-day transgression – this is why Tundama wrote the criticism of his own literary genre before he wrote anything in that literary genre.
Tundama I have met only once whereas Raphaëls I have met on the thousands while looking for Tundama in Siberia, but it’s strange, you know, I no longer remember Tundama – there’s something explicitly expressionless in him and that’s why I’ve come to adopt so much of what those questions marks demand from beauty and world as if nothing had been ever eroded; whereas Raphaël I remember distinctly as if I were speaking a life-long enemy while at the same time it’s difficult to loath people that haven’t themselves written anything at all; there’s nothing you can accuse them of with the exception of a charge for protecting themselves from the world behind nothing but laughter and there’s no acquittal for such a serious charge which is not as deserving of contempt as it is of love. What angers me is not the friendliness in the appropriation of murderous devises for the sake of entertainment as much as the endless innocence with which everything is carried through, the paucity of mind and the care, the ability to work unmolested by the facts of the world. I can take no pleasure in Kleist’s warfare unless it’s for the sake of its destruction. Has he eaten of the tree of knowledge in order to return to this state of innocence that enables one to read Kleist without harm? No, I don’t think so, this is not his mortal sin, his sin is that he hasn’t realized that there was a tree of love as well and that God with rapacious voracity ate all the fruits and the branches of the tree in heroic viciousness while Adam was still busy trying to figure out what to do with his body in the moment of self-awareness and has ever since mistaken the fruits of life for fruits of love and the fruits of science for fruits of life. This is precisely the reason why Tundama is nowhere to be found, he’s still there, with his little book, in the beginning of everything, trying to find the right tree, while in the greater consciousness of things, the Raphaëls of the world, down below, are either gods or stones, never trees.