(First of Two Parts.)
OUR CIVILIZATION is the most sophisticated of all time. Its tricks go beyond the ability of commentators to catch them. Intellectuals-- historians, literary critics, political scientists-- are themselves bamboozled by the onslaught.
For instance, the ability of the Machine to quickly co-opt all dissent and difference-- to claim ownership for itself of every cultural happening and quirk.
If Imperial Rome had been that sophisticated, it would've co-opted the Jesus Movement by presenting a slicker alternative. Jesus without the edge. The replacement version would've been better-looking, more patrician-- more Roman-- would not have carried any anger, and not been so poor. He wouldn't have been crucified-- how gauche; what a loser-- and above all would've been pro-Imperial Rome.
Those doing the coopting today are today's patricians; our own Imperialists; indoctrinated and credentialed at the most prestigious schools, then given high positions in the highest academies or the conglomerates. The young priests live in a high-up realm from which they look down upon the rest of society. They don't comprehend this other world, but their insularity and arrogance assures them they do. The world is something the highest caste owns.
Young priestess Debbie Stier at HarperStudio, in the upper realms of publishing hierarchy, imagines herself to be an insurgent. Real literary insurgents of course are socially and economically crucified, eliminated from caste vision, they and their writings tossed into garbage dumpsters to be seen by no one. Stier easily steps into their role. She's oppressed and oppressor in one. It's the split identity of a comic book superhero. Debbie Stier is both INSIDE the towering office of power, on the 26th floor, and simultaneously OUTSIDE the building, on the streets, protesting herself. It's how her mind resolves the conflict generated by her station, by her power, by her main career role.
Another example of the phenomenon of high caste power is an essay by Rick Moody in that organ of Imperialist literature, The Believer: "Analects on the Influence of Artaud," in the June issue. Moody not only discusses Antonin Artaud, he identifies himself with him, as if he, Rick Moody, is the latter-day Artaud; or, at least, the leader of today's avant-garde. In his mind, Moody fully believes he is.
Are other latter-day Artauds mentioned? Kathy Acker perhaps? No.
Rick Moody explains to us how he came to become the new Artaud. It was in the academy; the illusion factory; at Columbia or Brown-- Moody doesn't specify which one. He's performing in an Artaud play there, for a course. In his enthusiasm-- rare enthusiasm (I've witnessed him read and saw no enthusiasm)-- Moody cuts his hand. This is his baptism into Artaud; his license to inhabit the role. As Moody tells us:
"It took a long while for the wound to heal. I was launched on the world. I was a graduate."
Now safely put into the superhero uniform of Antonin Artaud, because of a cut on his hand, in college, Moody is able, through agreement with the man's life and ideas, to further strengthen the identification.
The agreement, mind you, remains in the essay. Needless to say, Rick Moody isn't another Artaud. The idea is ludicrous. He's made his way in the lit-world by being as conformist and bourgeois as possible; gathering credential and credential, award after award; bonding with arts institution upon arts institution: becoming, beyond all else, APPROVED.
(To be continued.)
See a related essay now up at
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