Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Zeen Aesthetic

(To celebrate the upcoming July Philly Zinefest.)

Those who want to clean up zeen looks and zeen writing miss the point. The phenomenon is counter-intuitive to those with a bourgeois mindset; why they can't understand it.

The zeen aesthetic is a reaction to the processed and slick, of which we've had enough! The conformists and monopolists represent production that's homogenized and safe. Zeens reintroduce the accidental, the personal, and the human to design as well as writing. The craft is less mediated, the distance between artist and consumer shorter.

Established lit is rigor mortis stiff in all its aspects-- a typical example being the academic poetry reading. The much-lauded university poet, who as an artist can't die because he was never alive, stands like a robot at the podium pompously clutching his overpriced chapbook, monotone mumbling his meandering meaningless words about flowers and doves. His beard droops; his eyebrow twitches; cues to his sleeping audience of intended significance. The performance is ritual, replay of memories of an art that once was.

The performing undergrounder will more likely overturn the podium.


BradyDale said...

For years I didn't draw because I had grown up on mainstream comics and the drawing was really precise and slick. It made me feel like crap about my abilities to represent the world around me. Then I discovered underground comics, and I learned that there were a lot of people out there that can't draw like Marvel and D.C. comics artists draws... but that doesn't mean they don't draw as well. In fact, a lot of them, in there not-at-all-slick styles, have a much more aesthetically pleasing look to their work than what you see in mainstream comics.
It's a very similar idea. Seeing underground drawing woke me up to a whole new aesthetic reality and a whole new array of art to enjoy the hell out of. It's the same thing. Screw cleanliness and precision.

chapman said...

Sure, it's the same thing that almost destroyed rock&roll in the early 70's--the growing pride among the musicians with their "musicianship." Which led to some of the palest, weakest smoothie music in the history of Christendom. But a real art form mutates and avoids fatal illness; punk was the sign of that, and after the 80's counter-revolution, grunge appeared for the same reason--to give us some non-corporate music to listen to that's got real individuality and energy.

The analogy to writing is accurate, except that the literary world with its established customs is much more based in a class culture than rock or comics is, and those upperclass tastemakers have gorgeously honed reflexes for freezing out nasty little upstarts. Doesn't matter. Whenever society people put forth candidates for Great Writerdom from among their friends, in the long run those candidates lose out to populists. Like, in 1968--at a time when Ginsberg and Brautigan and Ballard and Pynchon were all hard at work--you know who the It Couple was at the time, the married couple constituting the Greatest Poet and Greatest Fiction Writer, according to the fashionable chitchat? Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Hardwick. Imagine that.

This (which is still going on, obviously) will never change. It might gradually become irrelevant, but only in a world where nobody is yearning to hobknob any longer. As long as there is a class hierarchy (i.e. forever) there'll be artists who the upper classes feel are "our kind of people" and who they will promote and hype into the top reaches of fame...and whose reputation will vaporize upon their deaths, since dead artists are no fun to hobknob with any more.