Friday, April 07, 2017

A Manifesto, dedicated to Fernando Pessoa

Your style is a straitjacket.

You've figured out what you think is beautiful, and what kind of work you're committed to, and what kind of character you have as an artist, and this is your protective stance as you present yourself to the world. Every time you give the public a new artifact, a new piece of yourself, you put yourself at their mercy... and yet, you've shut out so many others. Because by choosing your style, you've excluded all other styles, and those exclusions have become part of your identity.

Your identity is built on an unstable affirmative and a rigid infinity of negatives.

I don't have a style. Each new work looks for a style, and they don't find it in me, and so they struggle. So my exclusions are washed away, and my potential fills the infinite space that my pretensions have vacated.

. . . . .

Your popularity is a poison.

You know the taste of validation, of feedback and response and appreciation. It's a sweet acidity that penetrates every level of your praxis. It softens your commitment and puts cracks in your sovereignty, and once it's in there, it can't be washed out.

You may embrace it. You may say you "do it for the fans," that your followers are "the most important thing to you." Some people love the things that are killing them.

I have no fans. I've learned the long asceticism of failure, and it keeps my creative organs pure. If I love any of my own output, I know that it has a 100% approval rating, that the only person in the world who cares about it is enamored of it. Hate follows the same path.

. . . . .

Your productiveness is a failure mode.

You know how to turn an idea into a product. You have a pipeline, a process, a series of technical steps that lead you to something complete, that you're happy with, that you can show the world. You've dug away the soft loam of unfinished projects.

But that vast incompleteness was you at your most fertile, your most robust. When you finish a work, you strip away all its beautiful indecision, its vastness, the unfulfilled potential that gives it those cosmic roots. Each signature and sale is a cord of wood, and your range is notably short of trees.

I don't finish projects, and they remain seeds and saplings in the primeval woodland of my imagination. I may produce artifacts, little bundles to burn as kindling or desiccated limbs shaped into walking sticks, but this only happens when the work has already died. And so I leave my best work to the wild, nascent, leafy, unrealized, hopeful and beautifully hopeless.

. . . . .

"And I wonder if my apparently negligible voice might not embody the essence of thousands of voices, the longing for self-expression of thousands of lives, the patience of millions of souls resigned like my own to their daily lot, their useless dreams, and their hopeless hopes."

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet