aes - thet - ics / also aes - thet - ic / A branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty.
ter - ror - ism / the systematic use of terror esp as a means of coercion.

...Terrorism can be advanced through art only if art threatens action. For such a phenomenon as Aesthetic Terrorism to occur, aesthetic pursuit must become symbolic not only of its own decadently solipsistic pleasures (exemplified in the madness of des Esseintes in Huysmans' Against Nature), but of action taken beyond the pale of art world confines.

"Terrorism in art is called the avant-garde," quipped Alberto Moravia in his essay "The Aesthetics of Terrorism." If this was once the case, it is no longer. Most avant-garde art is viewed and created today as simply an enfolding reaction to its own history. This disingenuous game-playing guarantees that the avant-garde can no longer stimulate or even provoke. Dada and Futurist actions, which attempted to lead art out of the classroom and museum and into the streets, are simply appropriated by postmodernist facsimiles which capture the letter but little of the original essence. It hardly matters anyway. Avant-garde art has evolved into nothing more than a cultural benchwarmer, corporate tax write-off and public relations smokescreen. Art which openly espouses anti-corporate ideology is embraced as long as it hews to arbitrary standards invented by those taste- making and fortune-telling hirelings, the art critics. What could be wrong, after all, with a business world that allows people to say what they want (because it doesn't matter)?

Aesthetic Terrorism is a term more realistically applied to the faceless regime of consumer culture than the avant-garde. The onslaught of Muzak, ad jingles, billboards, top 40 tunes, commercials, corporate logos, etc., all fit the terrorist dynamic of intrusion and coercion. One almost forgets that aesthetics once implied a consensual relationship between the creators and appreciators of art. How often is it that one hears someone admitting a fondness for a media product "in spite" of himself? How many times have you heard a slogan or rancid tune ring in your ears like a brain-eating mantra? When consumer terror's avant-garde correlative, Pop Art, became indistinguishable from the object of its supposed social satire, it erased from big business its pejorative taint. Many of today's avant-garde stars have emerged from or entered the business world, some enormously successful in the arcane number-juggling of speculation and commodities scams. Even freeloading on the state and private foundations is fair game only for those whose bureaucratic aptitude is matched by their shameless ass-kissing. It is not surprising that most grant recipients excel in little more than lawyeristic logorrhea and ingrained artistic timidity.

Critic-centered postmodernism spawned the phrase-art hybrid of Barbra Kruger and Jenny Holzer in which an advertising-style slogan is combined with an implied message or visual cue (usually swiped from some old magazine). Their posture is a hip cynicism which is supposed to subvert the "thrall" of the advertising command. Kruger and Holzer play the market like skillful double-agents, booting themselves into the public eye through clever steals from Madison Avenue behaviorist techniques yet simultaneously troweling on crypto-Marxist jive to secure the perks of critical and academic currency. Their self- promotions worked when they were at the sidelines of the establishment. But now the social commentary grows increasingly hollow. Currently being groomed for jet-setting prominence by Soho millionaires Mary Boone, Kruger's contribution to the Whitney Biennial in 1987, for which she was paid a handsome sum, featured nothing more than a Jewish princess joke, "I Shop Therefore I Am." Winking at and wagging the tail of establishment hierarchy is part of that I-rib-you-gently- and-you-pay-me-off confidence game artists have been playing since the Renaissance courts. These contemporary court artists, like many of past centuries, smugly pretend to spit in the eye of the exploiters while allowing themselves to be pampered, de- loused-and when they aren't looking -- de-clawed.

There are, of course, those artists, usually fresh out of university, who are unaccomplished at filling out grant forms, and therefore consider themselves "subversives." The majority of these art and rock magazine-styled rebels are playing out rebellion psychodramas to package and merchandize to consumerist sycophants. This strategy is (forgive the term) the simulacra of terrorism: the content seizes in the frozen attitudinizing of pose and goes no further.

We must look to the true outsiders and not the would-be insiders for an artist truly capable of effective counter-terror against the insidious mantras of consumerist brainwash. Terror means a threat, and the outsider's version of Aesthetic Terrorism belongs to those performances or arrangements of words and pictures that unleash the reactionary impulses of police and bourgeois artist/critic alike. The kind of art that evokes this wrath, fear and condemnation rejoices in its pagan spirit of schadenfreude which controverts the humanist piety of "enlightened victim." Anti-social sadism rarely receives patronage, however. Outside the corrupting realm of societal handouts, the Aesthetic Terrorist -- much as the definition may grate on him -- is the last bastion of aesthetic purity.

It may come as a surprise to lean that a few artists are now producing work which finds itself classified as a thought crime, punishable by expulsion into a Siberia of non-distribution, and in a few cases by litigation and prison. Pure magazine, from Chicago, a xeroxed vehicle which extols child torture, murder, and extreme misogyny, tweaked too many civic-minded noses, and its editor, Peter Sotos, was tailed for nine months until he was nailed with charges of reproducing child pornography (one quite disputable xerox) and possession of child pornography (one magazine-Incest IV). Sotos' case is the first under a new Illinois law, enacted under influence of the Meese Commission Report, and example of First Amendment revisionism par excellence. It is apparent that Sotos is being tried not for his interest in violence, but his unhypocritical adulation of it outside mass media's "safe" venues of pornographic violence in the average comic book, action show, and crime novel. Mainstream consumer violence is, of course, sanctified by the safety-in-numbers moralizing of "crime-doesn't-pay" or by the sanctifying halo of state-sponsored murder. Sotos is all the more disquieting to the lynch mobs of the status quo in his celebration of the psychotic outsider such as Ted Bundy, Ian Brady, or John Wane Gacy.

Sotos' case takes a disquieting turn when one considers that prison is in the offing for the simple possession of controversial material. One wonders if this dangerous legal precedent will swing open the doors to future round-ups of political offenders similar to Soviet edicts against Samizdat literature or West German laws which imprison those who possess the likeness of a swastika. Are "offensive" interests the political crime of the future? At the time of writing, Sotos' case has been in and out of court for fourteen months, placing him under massive debt, not to mention the probability of jail time, simply for writings and graphics which present violence humorously, cruelly, and without a humanist gloss.

(More info on Peter Sotos' case here.)

The fellow who winged Pres. Regan in demonstration of affection for Jodi Foster, richly deserves -- as opposed to the comfortable and publicity-hungry -- the mantle of Aesthetic Terrorist. Embodying the Byronic model of poetry and action, John Hinckley, Jr. made the "mistake" of valuing visual poetry (Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver) as a greater reality, and acting accordingly. Hinckley is the victim of an era whose enforced cynicism judges any act of Romanticism (that is to say, belief) psychopathic. His poems and letters written prior to his outburst of Nietzschean heroism were dismissed as nothing more than trial evidence. Yet the writing throbs with intense sincerity and vitality of deed, devoid of the offhand, wan ironies of academic nihilism:

My fist keeps you down Knuckles cross over yr eyes You feel it? me I tear skirt falls - thighs paste across the dash - my fist

I fit yr body, "just a kid"
tight till you squirm
all around it. Hot and wet with juice & tears, crying under
Fist the shape of a
birds head with
giggles & grunt

Penis is cold

Is hard see
and touch -
Strung so tight
yr face a blue blur flicks across screen in Blk & Wht

playing guitar on my spine The camera out of focus comes all over
my leg

John Hinckley's true crime: he means what he says.

What is philosophy but thinking about thought? The masters of thought in previous centuries had traditionally gravitated to monasteries or ivory towers. The new millenarian monasteries are masquerading as high-security penitentiaries where the cream of society's misfits are forced by circumstance into contemplation of the eternal mysteries. Like Aldous Huxley, Charles Manson experimented with psychoactive drugs and reached states of internal illumination consonant with many practitioners of the left-handed path. Unlike Huxley, Manson expanded this sense of illumination with social experimentation, and claims to hold the keys to the mysteries for which modern science holds no answer. Here is his conception of time, translated from psychedelic revelation into word:

They say Time is distant. Time, Time, Time is infinite. It is Time!
Hands slowly moving.

Time is Time is Time is infinite.
Hands slowly moving. Unwinding springs.

Wrenching minds,
It is Time!
Time is infinite, Clock-work time.
Time to exist and to kiss, Time of bliss,

Time to miss.
Is it Time?
A crucial Time,
In a football game, They yell: Time Out! Time isn't out. Time is in!

Once upon a Time, There was Time.
And there still is.
Time is every second of Time!

Do Time!
A word on and about Time, About infinity.
About Time for a crime, Give me a second, a minute, an hour,
Time for me, Time for you, Time for infinity...
There is still Time!
T I M E!!!

...If we are to believe Szaz, Laing, Deleuze and Guattari, schizophrenia is a mental reaction specific to a capitalist environment. We are likewise informed by other spokesmen of the medical community that conspiracy theorists and racists by and large suffer from a kind of paranoid schizophrenic delusion. The definition of schizophrenia is enlarging daily, and it would not be surprising to find out that in a few years that anyone who does not vote, work, or believe in the two party system is a confirmed hebephrenic deserving of "treatment." With this in mind, the most refreshing art or tracts I've seen lately have been from clinical schizophrenics and racist revolutionaries. Their avenging monomania powerfully transcends the wan self-pity and hair- splittings of the status quo. When reason and enlightenment ignore and perpetuate the monstrosity of a fatally poisoned earth, monstrous proposals may be the only way to get anyone to listen, to face the hard facts of our imminent demise.

The most disturbing examples of Aesthetic Terrorism may nowadays be the absurdist yet sanctioned mutations of mass- market consciousness. Cartoonist Howard Cruse's poster for the Gay Men's Health Crisis extolling "Great Sex! Don't let AIDS stop it" brings us to a realm of vertiginous nausea unexplored by even the like of Peter Sotos. In a style more suited to depicting the Seven Dwarfs than fuck-buddies on the verge of contracting a horrendous terminal disease, Cruse lectures us à la Romper Room that sucking a black man's anus is a no-no.

The Aesthetic Terrorists of half a millennia ago, the Ranters, were burnt at the stake for suggesting the then demonic idea that every human was in some way god-like and should therefore freedom in the exercise of free will. The embodiment of contemporary demonism is represented, without a doubt, in fantasies and representations of Nazi genocide. The neo-Nazi flyer (pictured) understands this, joyously short-circuiting synapses with its pairing of Christ and Hitler as saintly anti- Semitic evangelicals. This propaganda bleaches the pagan Hitler in the Purex morality of Christianity, painting an elegant chiaroscuro of light and dark, as evident in the shadow-play of its moralities as in its typography and design. Huysmans' des Esseintes would enjoy the heady sensuality of its delirious irony, understanding that most of it would be lost to journalistically corrupted vulgarians. The dark poetry of the flyer never announces itself as poetry, and its self-effacing servility as propaganda adds yet another layer of chill to its overall effect. One may have to go back as far as Lautreamont's Maldoror to find Aesthetic Terrorism of comparable density.


All Material © 2005, UNPOP ART 

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