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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Slightgeist (more on Slow Thought)

We are living not so much a discernible zeitgeist as an amorphous, evanescent “slightgeist.” This is a very slim spirit of the times, indeed! All pronouncements evaporate by mid-day like the morning dew! They must make way for new pronouncements, for the next person’s fifteen minutes of fame.  Of all the paltry contributions of the slightgeist artist Andy Warhol, this one I predict will last, but with a speedy twist: Everyone will be famous for fifteen seconds! Or as Milan Kundera put it in one of his short stories, “Let the old dead make room for the new dead.”[1]


We are stuck in the slightgeist of fast forward.[2]

And it has two elements: self and speed.

The slightgeist is a two-stroke engine of self and speed, in a hurry to be somebody on the road to somewhere, but in reality making us all nobodies going nowhere. And we all write obsessively, compulsively with more and more “news from nowhere.”[3]

“I always thought that it would be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody,” says the psychopathic protagonist of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley.[4]  That’s what makes our times so slight: pretentiousness authenticity is opposed to a feared vapidness.

“EVERYBODY has won and all must have prizes,” announces the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland. Being a fake somebody is to live in the same wonderland as Alice and Dodo where everybody wins.

Combined with the relentless entitlements accorded to the saturated self, this means we are living ever more isolated lives, meaninglessly connected to distant “friends,” with the empty demand to “Like” this or that and add more and more contacts, friends, and connections to an already saturated social network.

This is perfectly embodied by wikipedia.

Nothing that exists off the grid, including intimate personal knowledge or well-crafted professional opinions can be included in wikipedia articles. If it’s not already on the web, it doesn’t exist for wikipedia. But here’s the paradox: all the achievements that are logged on wikipedia are elsewhere! It is a self-referential and absurd logic. It is solipsistic. It creates its own autistic world.

Andy Warhol: Slightgeist – Sleightgiest – I-Con-ic Artist

Warhol is known for the happening, for capturing the moment, for the accelerated notion of art by cultural quotation. Pop art, turning popular items like the Campbell soup can and icons like Marilyn Monroe into images, created a culture of branding. Art as concept and performance. No originality or talent needed. Warhol as an “artist” is like an exhibition of book covers or record album covers, with only implicit reference to the contents of the writing or the music. A recent exhibition in Montreal did just that – Warhol’s record covers were on display. He “created” the Velvet Underground by making them his house band and “produced” their record, imposing Nico on them. Warhol is a producer of images which creates a market of consumers. No quality, no reflection, no second thoughts are necessary. This is “art” as mere consumption from the “artist” as mere producer.

He is now one of the most high-priced producers of images in history. Imagine that! The slightgeist is getting slighter. And worse, Warhol’s legacy is to turn the already paltry slightgeist into a sleightgeist. Warhol is outlasting his fifteen minutes of fame to become the i-con-ic artist of the 21st century. I-CON-IC: Cunning and deceitful. With no hint of the creativity of Apollinaire and Marinetti, the playfulness of Marcel Duchamp or the irony and satire of Ionesco and Stoppard. Just a straight-faced “I-con” job with that humourless face topped by an absurd wig that functions like a mask.

[1] Milan Kundera, “Let the Old Dead Make Room for the New Dead,” in Laughable Loves, trans. by Suzanne Rapaport, intro. by Philip Roth (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), pp. 163-194.
[2] This is a reference to Damien Broderick’s and Rory Barnes’ Science Fiction novel, Stuck in Fast Forward (New York: HarperCollins, 1999).
[3] This is a reference to William Morris’ 1890 utopian Science Fiction novel, News from Nowhere. See: News from Nowhere and Other Writings (New York: Penguin Books, 1994).
[4] Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (New York: Coward-McCann, 1955).

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