Long ago in graduate school, I somehow fell in with a set of students from the College of Visual and Performing Arts. This set was not entirely composed of drunken British posers, but was very nearly so. I do remember one exception, a young American woman, acquainted with soap, who aspired to design wallpaper, and who once rather abashedly showed me her portfolio of handsome patterns. But most of that set were greasy drunks cut along the lines of a Dylan Thomas or a Malcolm Lowry.
Without the talent, of course.
I fell out with this set over some dishes. These were the dishes from which I, in those days, scraped my pasty graduate-student meals, so I was partial to them, and also annoyed when, late one night, the artistic Brits—who were more than usually drunk—threw them, Frisbee-like, out the window of my second-story apartment.
Their thought-provoking performance art provoked in me the thought that I should spend less time in the company of drunken British posers.
(I should add that, a few days after this Porzellannacht, one of these bleary posers appeared on my doorstep bearing the conciliatory gift of a single plate, and that it was surprisingly tasteful in design.)
The Showing must have taken place before the Porsellannacht, and now that I think of it, may have been one cause of that crockery cascade. One of these drunken British posers, a woman who could wax soulful when not soused, was scheduled to “show” her “work,” and I was looking for something to do with my parents, who were visiting me from out of town. And thus it was that, early one evening, the three of us set out for the Com-Art building (which does not stand for communist art, but of course very easily might).
My expectations were low. I was, you see, coming off a stretch in which I, too, was a bit of a poser, and in which I, indeed, resembled this set of Brits in all respects but their Britishness. I had thus spent endless hours stalking through the little galleries of SoHo and Tribeca, in stroking my chin over whatever trash happened to have been heaped on their well-waxed wooden floors, and in then repairing to coffee shops where I puzzled over murky articles in the Village Voice and New York Review of Books. I thus fully expected this Showing to feature something like a mound of dirty laundry, or perhaps even shards of broken plates scattered across the floor.
What the soulful woman had, in fact, contrived, was a sort of forest of sticks, all loosely bound by wires, and decorated with clots of waste metal she had salvaged from the College forge. This forest contained, perhaps, a dozen “trees,” each one a sort of tripod that reminded me of the Martian fighting machines in H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. They were about eight feet high and stood in a gallery that would not have been out of place in SoHo, and that might very well have housed a mound of dirty laundry, or even the scattered shards of broken plates.
The three of us walked down an aisle between the Martian fighting machines, I stroking my chin and making what were meant to be witty and ironic remarks. My mother and father, on the other hand, assumed an attitude of slightly nervous politeness, such as one might assume if closeted with a harmless lunatic. They certainly understood the kind if art that one finds in museums, but not the kind of art one finds in little galleries, and would have been in any case far too nice to simply laugh out loud.
Having reached the far end of the forest, the three of us stood apart from it, against the wall of the room. I blush to think that I may have uttered the word bricolage, which I had recently learned and was eager to flaunt. My social theory seminars were just then big into bricolage, which basically means junk made out of junk, so it no doubt struck me as the mot juste.
Then things fell apart, the things being those Martian fighting machines. They toppled, one after the other, like dominos. I believe another visitor must have brushed against one, which was more than they could stand because they were not in the least bit stable or well-made. So, the whole rickety forest of sticks and wires and metal clots came crashing down in a loud catastrophe that did not subtract one jot from its artistic merit.
Indeed, a true theorist would explain that this collapse had brought the “work” to its perfection.
My poor mother! I don’t for a moment suppose that she liked the forest of Martian fighting machines, but she respects art, and so watched them collapse with the same horror she would have felt had Michelangelo’s David been tipped from its plinth, fallen to the floor, and cracked in half. I’m sure she would have stayed up all night helping to put the tangled mess back together if the soulful British woman had asked her, and agreed to stay sober.
I remember that she asked me in a state of agitation if there wasn’t something we ought to do. And I remember answering that there was. We ought to go home.
* * * * *
That all happened thirty years ago, but the memory lingers as a resonant symbol. Here at the Orthosphere, we are inclined to worry about collapse, and to feel alarm when things fall apart. We have conservative instincts, and so are easily enlisted in programs to hold things together, prop them up, and make them work. We respect society in much the same way as my mother respects art, and this often (as in her case) blinds us to the difference between Michelangelo’s David and Martian fighting machines.
There is a sticker, for instance, on the inside of the door to the toilet stall in the men’s room down the hall. This advertises the services of a campus office charged with policing the students’ sexual behavior, and more especially the dangerous swamp of jealousy and disgust that lies just downstream from their drunken hookups and prematurely eroticized relationships. Of course, this is not the way the campus office describes its work, but their basic job is to hold the sexual revolution together, and this it does, for the most part, by scapegoating young males.
What is most “stalking,” after all? Isn’t it very often a jilted boyfriend or girlfriend who mistook sexual intercourse for a “bonding experience,” and who was left bereft and bewildered when informed that it was less binding than a handshake?
And while there are certainly instances of rape on dates, the rogue’s gallery of “date rapists” clearly contains many young men who simply had the misfortune to look a whole lot worse in the morning.
Don’t get me wrong! There is a lot of pain in that swamp of jealousy and disgust, and most of it is suffered by young men and women who should not have known better. But the reason they should not have known better is because wise adults have told them nothing but lies.
Policing that swamp simply permits those wise adults to go on telling those lies.
Some things need to fall apart. That absurd forest of sticks and wire in the Com-Art building, for instance. It was a ghastly joke and a smelly fart that collapse brought to perfection.
If conservatives stand against the wall and laugh at cultural collapse, I suppose we must expect to be visited with a Porzellannacht of anger; but it is really not our job to hold the gimcrack liberal world together.
Let it fall apart!
And do not be dissuaded from principled inaction and aloofness by those Jezebels who croon about Christian charity. As we were told two Sunday’s back, you should treat “a man who refuses to listen . . . as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (or even as you would a British poser who throws your plates out the window).