Thursday, July 1, 2010

... I started out in the 1950s like many young experimental artists with a strong commitment to most of the received ideas of early 20th century modernism, the most important of which for a functioning artist was the idea of the exhaustion, experiential and esthetic, of representation in all its forms. For a language artist this mostly meant the uselessness of narrative.

I held this view for a long time, inconsistently I suppose, because I made use of some kinds of narrative anyway, but I continued to hold this view till some time in the early 1970s, when it became apparent to me and a number of other writers and artists that abstraction and collage, the modernist alternatives to representation had also become exhausted, perhaps through their success in advertising in magazines and on television. But for whatever reason, by the beginning of the 1970s both abstraction and collage appeared even more hopeless as signifiers of human experience and seemed reduced to conventionalized signifiers of style.


Any transformation, no matter how promising, contains the threat of destroying its desiring subject in the magnitude of fulfillment. But what the beggar wants is to remain the beggar inside the life of the king, or to hold on to that subject position from which the life of a king would be a sufficient satisfaction to at least offset the gravest problems of statecraft, which the beggar has most likely never counted on. And it would be in the interest of the king, who is suffering from all the anxieties of kingship and in whose state of mind the beggar remains only in threads of nostalgia and anxiety, to build a bridge from his present life to his past. As it would be in the interest of the beggar to build a bridge from his present to his possible future, to imagine the speculative consequences of his transformation.

This bridge building across change is what I would suggest is the central human function of narrative.

David Antin, On Narrative: The Beggar and the King (Part One)
ht Wood's Lot, ht Jerome Rothenberg (Poems and Poetics)


John Lavagnino said...

Please, please, it's David Antin!

Helen DeWitt said...

Sorry, thanks, head going adrift these days.