William James Austin

                                                                                visionism 5 /

crucifixions, the grotesque, etc. de-form-a-†-Is-m

          visionism and/or deformatism -- at most a negligent modulation. one term standing for another. meaning re-placement. or occupation. both. two terms, two seemingly distinct markings, each with(in)out the other. for to see, to make prophesy, to en-vision is to formulate, and to formulate is also to particularize, individualize, to bloody, cut to pieces, create one an(d)other, i.e., form never in stasis, always in transition, the de-forming of form. our genesis of signification. our creations. if human experience may be understood as a work of imagination -- well, "all the world's a stage"

to stage a world

         we have accomplished this, we are that far accomplished. and we have discovered abyss at the center of indication. our world imagined, confabulated, false. and we have responded. not by writing the abyss, but rather by erecting a new pretense, one in which we can invest our confidence -- the meaningful meaninglessness of meaning, whose play celebrates the end of human experience. the chimera of humanity exchanged for a better illusion. we are now far more reliable, clearheaded, formidable. we are now machines

         why resurrect, however provisionally, a time when art still walked at the elbow of reality, when art -- not to put too fine a point on it -- meant something? these days so much "artistic" product manages to camouflage the distinction between art and life, mythology and source material. a thousand thousand "experimental" structures whose meaning -- duplicated a thousand thousand times -- is their disruption of meaning, and so of art. seemingly endless evasions of the one and the other, of the one with(in)out the other. the disruption of the signifier/signified relationship requires little or no effort on the part of the artist. language naturally, inevitably, provides an excess of signifiers. to control this promiscuity -- both the sheer number of signifiers and the single signifier's desire to transgress its meaning -- once defined the artist's enterprise. this was creativity. not at all to suggest that meaning is ready-made, waiting for the signifier to capture it. rather it has always been the signifier's relation to other signifiers, its continual motion (forming/de-forming) within the system, that produces the significance of the sign. according to perhaps the most misguided notion within philosophical circles, indeterminacy frees the sign to travel. in fact the opposite is true. having dispensed with determinacy, we have arrested the mobility and flux of language. ironically this means to conceal the indeterminate beneath a profligacy of surfaces. today we are awash in duplications, "clone-work," the necessary criterion for all factory production, for easy product identification and placement. to what purpose? to close the gap between theater and flesh, between art and the abyss of the real -- to make of the abyss a semblance of itself, packaged for crass commerce. warhol isn't quite dead, is he? he was never quite alive. and too many walking talking artists have yet to vomit on the calculated boredom of the 1980s. precisely because it doesn't sell, poetry may be the one remaining art whose soul is intact, despite all the attempts of poetic fashion plates to rip the throat from the word. art -- to be art -- must ac-know-ledge (form/de-form) the mystery of its source, the inadmissible thing whose existence is an abomination. visionism welcomes abomination

to stage a world

         and passion, fire -- that which escapes much vogue experimental art. the form of deformation. desire's usefulness, its fulfillment, means its death. visionism resists death. as contrary, the denial of desire means the repudiation of death. visionism dis-closes death. whatever falls to one side or the other? not art. in the interstice, the act of separation (i.e., of individuation, of perversion) -- passion, fire. fire for its own sake, as nietzsche prophesied, that only the singular event of revolution, of destruction which opens the possibility of creation, has value. what came before, what comes after -- reproduction, repetition, the clone work of a victorious system

         visionism celebrates human emotions. the conventional understanding of the emotions is that they issue from, and are circumscribed by, the subject. in fact they mark a place where the subject yields to, and is dominated by, the object, by the object's resistance to the rational, to comforting comprehension. this dominance of the subject by the object is not desire's fulfillment, but rather its confrontation with its own fragility, its ultimate lack of completion (forming/de forming), its empty center, the tragedy of its own existence. there is always something mysterious about the emotions

         when, in the 1960s, avant-garde poets embraced john cage's aleatoric method, the resulting disruption was fascinating, especially in the context of western self-valuation, a system of priorities turned on its head by the vietnam war. as had been the case with dada, symbolism, futurism, surrealism, the referential thrust of language found itself detoured -- in the case of the vietnam era, from the actual to the television image. both signifier and signified danced in a virtual world where valuations (e.g., good and evil) exchanged their gravity for weightless entertainment value, reliably defined communication superseded by capricious spectacle. the avant-garde had its finger on a dying pulse. their work book-marked that point in time in which the global image began its conquest, steadily obliterating a world which still maintained some contact with reality, and with art

         a century of disruption. perpetual duplications of disruption. navel gazing, surely, but when the navel belongs to the corpse, and the corpse is our own . . . . the debate regarding representational and non-representational poetry, for example, was critical for a time, for a place. but the certainly by now conventional fetish of "art for art's sake" has, in certain quarters, become the altar of monotony. aside from the works' irrelevance to contemporary, often horrific, world events, what holds for one version of art holds true for the other. language in all its forms is imaginary -- there is no actual referential certitude in any case. that seemingly conventional discourse offers the illusion of "pointing toward" a world of concretions, and that "reflexive" work does not, is a distinction that fools only the neophyte who knows nothing of the function of language. a new stage? meaning unemployed, replaced by/as its simulated stand-in. art and reality lost in the fog of history

         reflections elsewhere. everywhere. what more do we see (tracing other avenues)? what of the trusty greenback? bartering was clearly sourced, rooted in the natural functions of things. but we progressed. economies were distanced from foundation, eventually exceeding it in ever widening steps. the exchange (re placement) of goods with paper currency represented an early remove which was extended when a limited supply of goods could no longer support the untamed proliferation of cash. at that point "money" became its own counterfeit. what followed merely distended the breach. plastic for paper, underwritten by the dance of electrons, of digital ones and zeros. money entered the virtual world. it is no longer tangible

         politics? what, if anything, does the manipulation of power effect? other than affect? its function to maintain the virtual system. certain "insurrectionist" poets fancy themselves in violation of the word's common referential function, ergo at odds with oppressive capitalist structures. in fact the opposite occurs. the nakedly indeterminate feeds the system's need for product. poetic worth no longer hinged to aesthetic definitives but rather to consensus. a poem's value simply that it exists as product -- a capitalist's wet dream

         theory? it has been proffered that once anything enters the arena of theory, it is ready for the slab. theory as museum. but haven't we heard that theory is dead? does the end of theory liberate the flesh? can we unlearn? can we de-theorize? restore the gap between substance and substitution? when myth assassinated reality, art (the imagined) also died. theory, after all, is reality by proxy, a self-contained, self-generating counterfeit. what will the murder of theory accomplish? will it restore the distinction between art and origin? or does this violence -- this virtual violence -- continue to operate at a safe distance from the mystery of passion? what is left to kill if we are already imagination's victim? perhaps we are merely erasing our tracks -- a final step to becoming the complete machine, the generator of clone images of ourselves -- the semblance of humanity

         clarity. possible? or merely a virtual possibility? to make distinct, since distinction (an interesting word which suggests both a separation and the conferring of privilege) seems an important issue for this essay. so . . .

         when art began in its primitive form, on the walls of caves, perhaps, it appeared, clearly, in opposition to life's sensate dangers. primitive man walked two paths, that of unfathomable jungles and that of his developing imagination. he experienced polarization. language, both spoken and written, was an act of imagination, from its inception in throat and sand to its capture on the page. the process began as soon as the primitive entered the linguistic world (where there appears no purpose, no end, merely the expansion of the system, the production of meaning, of the prisoner of signifiers and signifieds). the centuries fell away. no doubt the educated classes were further ensconced in the imaginary than the illiterate whose language was not yet so awash in ab-(de)-stractions. but as the literate class expanded, as language developed its territory, more of the flesh was trans-formed into the imaginary. this progressive abandoning of the body amounted to its incremental erasure, promulgated by the imaginary, as the imagined. still -- books alone, their distribution always limited among the classes, could not completely deflect our nexus with nature. they stood in comparison to reality as artifice

         with the coming of the techno-image, the dissemination of the visual likeness via television and movies, the ultimate hegemony of global media, the new mythology re-in-formed us. no one is safe. there no longer obtains a distinction between art and the body. whatever we were before this time now deleted. we learn to learn all of our responses via the image. the global "feed" teaches us what to think, what to dream, what to feel. right and wrong no longer reference determined events. they are merely points in the system promoting relations upon which the system depends for its existence and cogency. what is good art? what is bad art? the answers to such valuative questions hardly matter, so long as the concepts create an ideational opposition, so long as the system can function as a semblance of rational procedure. there may remain only very small pockets of reality, perhaps secreted within the remaining peoples who survive without the victorious machine. one may argue that even these "tribes" have a system of ritual which gives them over to the imaginary. no point doubting this. primitive ritual, however, unlike the various and dominant religious systems we encounter today, has always imagined what is most open to invasion by the abyss, by mystery, by the real, via its bonding with organic functions, those of life and death, blood and sacrifice in literal terms. religious practices, which today characterize eastern and western cultures, have enshrined the worship of indeterminacy as its opposite, in that, since their their gods and goals are, front to back, non-verifiable, they are completely given over to the semblance of certainty

         not to misread as an earlier stage in which life was said to imitate art. in fact, the event of imitation is no longer operational, for imitation suggests two things in relation, and now there is only one thing. the gap between art and other has been sealed. the counterfeit has thoroughly occupied reality (the abyss), conquered it, removed it from the field of discourse. and so art also has vanished into the hegemony of the machine

to stage a world

         so what, then, is visionism's response -- its responsibility? does it offer a solution? a re-solution? can it reach beyond what is already conceptualized within language, within the imaginary? can it restore what has been lost, recover the gulf between mythology and flesh? restore. recover. what is possible within a language whose force of resurrection reinforces its denials. clearly what visionism is after cannot be accomplished via commonplace representational art since that method long ago submitted to the world of imagination. conventional lyric poetry, for example, merely reproduces ideas and emotions supplied by the hegemonic image. much "experimental art," in its current state, is likewise helpless in this regard since it so often promotes (with glee, in some quarters) the erasure of distinctions, the death of art. no, the visionist must look elsewhere

         to locate our passion, stand against cold, rigid surfaces. to disrupt not meaning, but rather the boundaries of form, of the imagined order. what was that, again? abomination? the grotesque as the awakening of flesh, and therefore of art? maybe. let's see . . .

         we know this much, that the grotesque signals the animal, the other the system fears, represses, and so names (contains/domesticates) within its borders. and it is here, upon the brute's territory, that imagination began its contest with reality. needless to say, the animal, captured by language, is already the lost origin, already conceptualized, imagined, for us. we are always already at a severe remove from the that which exists only as other, that which escapes transference to the imaginary and therefore escapes knowledge. granting this, the grotesque, we understand, frightens, and fear always functions as a threat to the system. it sets the animal against its own conceptualization within language, frees the animal from its linguistic cage. fear opens the austere boundaries of form to disorder, to chaos, to authentic mystery. by definition -- or rather despite definition -- the grotesque remains in touch with the feral, if only as a re-mind-er that reality, already re-made, already conquered by language, exists still (for us) as the beyond -- as an unfulfilled desire becomes painful, as pain marks a distance between life and death, existence and nonexistence, capturing both poles in the circling of its event. fear is pain

         sounds like a plan. really? no. not real-ly. as I have already admitted, the grotesque is idealized for us well within mythological structures. however we slice and dice, the system always already admits what it considers inadmissable in order to fortify its own boundaries, its own integrity, its own identity as system. visionist art cannot real-ly smuggle the animal among us. but perhaps it can do something else, if not other

         much of my own poetry and visual art invokes a cardinal christian icon, that of the crucifixion. I believe in the power of the figure, though not in what it purports to deliver, i.e., eternity into our midst. I believe in its power of reversal, the cross upended which is a second crossing, a revelation and a resistance, a form de-forming form -- a canceled cancellation. I may be an atheist, but I am no fool. what this "symbol" offers is, quite simply, visionism's dream

         this image of the crucifixion intends to deflect the primitive event of blood sacrifice, remove it from the literal world, sap its erotic energy, burying it in symbology, in the imaginary. yet the figure of christ impaled on his cross is perhaps the most sado-masochistic illustration in our culture, in any culture. to re-view, when we say that the grotesque represents what appalls the system, what is inadmissible to the system, we do not mean that it is not admitted. it most certainly is admitted precisely as that which is inadmissible. it is a necessary term to the good and evil binary without which the normative, in this case the good, could not mean. yet the crucifixion, as perverse as it is as image, has been drained of its "natural" corruption and re-presented as uncontaminated. what rational system would not subvert this crossing over? the answer, of course, is that no such system would dispense permission, not even one whose project is merely to maintain an illusion of rationality

to stage a world

         yet somehow this singular image has transgressed its proper position in the binary function. we worship, finally, the god of death. not a literal death, but rather an imaginary death that, like an unfulfilled desire, occupies that place between life and death, existence and non-existence. despite the fact that the real and imaginary have merged, effectively negating both poles, the imagination resurrects the distinction within its own fakery, simultaneously erasing the separation and replacing it with its own imaginary product. this is the trace of art, or rather the semblance of art. much so-called avant-garde or experimental art, currently construed, falls clearly within this category. the avant-garde has always maintained as its project the "creation" of a new beginning, an obliteration of tradition, of history -- in other words, its character and ambition have always served an imagined ideal, a mythology. the most disruptive, i.e., inscrutable, avant-garde product does not bother to resurrect the bloodied image, or the illusion of reference, or the distinction between the real and imaginary. it has gone completely over to one side, a side already deleted by conflated poles. in fact, it is no more or less imaginary than that art product which offers the illusion of separation. it simply prefers to become total victim, i.e., total art product (perfect for capitalism, for museums), available for description but not for analysis, not for that which, at least within the imaginary field, offers some semblance of resistance to the impenetrable surface of language

         such product, then, is the semblance of art, but not art itself. how could it be when art has been annulled? in this it is no different from seemingly referential art. what is discrete is that the latter does not give up so easily. it offers a longing, a desire, a nostalgia for passion, among other things, even though these emotions are, front to back, the sentimental creations of the system. but are they? I have written that emotions signal the fragility of the subject, of the subject's desire. I have written that emotions open the subject to the dominance of the object that (without the subject) will not mean, of the flesh that will not mean, of the real that will not mean, of the abyss that will not mean. surely nothing can alter what has happened to us. the abominable falls squarely within imaginary boundaries, a necessary element of the field. still . . .

         against all sense, the crucifixion means not abomination, but salvation. it signals a resistance to conflated poles. it is a crack in the system, an anomalous fissure in which the grotesque has transgressed its own identity, has escaped its native corruption, and therefore to some degree escapes the system or, at the very least, presents within the system the possibility of escape. if this is so, then we must acknowledge that art, like all operations, contains within it a desire for both death and life, a yearning for its own end (completion) and resurrection, and at certain moments, in the form of certain anomalies (the grotesque figure), reveals its dual impulse, i.e., the formlessness with(in)out form. here is where art belongs. here is where art as both revelation and resistance belongs. perhaps only the possibility of art, but even this is more than that semblance which does no more than replicate itself, which swears undying allegiance to software, program, machine. despite the body's erasure for humanity, there is no reason to deny its existence as other. surely the image of the crucifixion has been manipulated by the system, by capitalization (replication, multiplication of the same) -- it is product, it has been commercialized. but all efforts to tame the image have always met with resistance. the transgression both escapes and entrances. the crossing marks a dual signature, that of absolute loss resurrected by the imagination as perfect absolution, co-signed by absolution's excrescence, its re-m(a)ind-er of depravity, of a god crucified, of the logos broken on reality's altar (repression always re presses into service). if the function of replication is to exhaust a figure's passion, here we witness a singular series of deviations, i.e., transgression coupled with an insufferable reversal -- hierarchy's linchpin sacrificed to mankind's own immolation -- ritual's fracture against the aboriginal -- to see the indeterminate with(in)out blood sacrifice

         in perhaps more pedestrian terms, consider also the continuing efforts to tax the icon and its churches, to task it, i.e., to capture it wholly within a rational economy, with piecemeal success. by its very nature the crucifixion resists its own capitalized image, not due to any inherent virtue, but rather because every attempt by the system to repair its cracks is met with equal force by its own longing for completion -- for death. the crucifixion is a symbol, i.e., a product of the imaginary, of language. but a symbol such that its assignment as domestication (concealment) of the indeterminate, of the real, of the abyss, reveals, celebrates, and therefore resists its failure. salvation and abomination. formation and de-formation. art. the possible for all grotesques . . .

         why bother with all this? why take up arms against the techno-world where our humanity is digitally deleted? last night, while watching television, I found myself awash in "commercials." bored by the incessant selling, I changed channels, only to discover that every major station had programmed its pitch for the identical "time slot." my choice had been limited to adverts that do nothing but reproduce each other -- in other words, no choice at all. those of us in what is left of the arts, who celebrate de-mystification of the fire with(in)out words, might consider how frigid is a world in which our right to choose, our freedom to transgress, violate, sicken the program has been exchanged for the comfort of system synchronization. if we deny the deviant, we run like cowards from the story/narrative language tells of the self, the individual, that singular work of art that is also the place of fire, the abyss of passion which both reconstructs and ravages form. visionism's dream is to real-lize the dream -- to become aware of, and also make present, not dream as reality, but the reality of dream as dream, as vision

to stage a world


*** for the argument's impulse and foundation, though not its extension or propulsion, I am indebted to charles baudillaire, hieronymus bosch, diane arbus, william shakespeare, the marquis de sade, lou reed, francis bacon, jacques derrida, lautréamont, nan golden, arthur rimbaud, william burroughs, salvador dali, william blake, bob dylan, tristan corbière, frank o'hara, fyodor dostoyevsky, henry miller, pablo picasso, andres serrano, jean baudrillard, vladimir nabokov, jim morrison, antonin artaud, richard kostelanetz, guillaume apollinaire, franz kafka, samuel taylor coleridge, hannah weiner, friedrich nietzsche, barbara kruger, and georges bataille -- etc. those unnamed, with(in)out visionism, who ghost my writing


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