Marjorie Perloff: Endgame and the "End of Art"
By Maria Goldverg
posted: 08-05-11
Charles Bernstein

A bit ago, I posted a selection from Arthur Danto’s “The Physical Disenfranchisement of Art” in which he elucidated upon his conception for the “end of art.”  In her book, Radical Artifice, Marjorie Perloff continues in the vein of his initial investigation.  She calls upon John Cage, Marcel Broodthaers, and Charles Bernstein for her investigation at the beginning of her first chapter, “Avant-Garde or Endgame?”

“But what about ‘the end of philosophy’?  The ‘end of criticism’?  Wouldn’t these endgames have to follow ‘the end of art’?  In conversation with John Cage in 1988, I posed the question: ‘What do you think of the current view that innovation is no longer possible, that indeed the avant-garde is dead?’  Cage reflected a minute and said with a smile, ‘Even them?’  A similar point was made by Marcel Broodthaers in a gallery publication:

    The aim of all art is commercial.
    My aim is equally commercial.
    The aim of criticism is just as commercial.
    Guardian of myself and of others,
    I do not know truly who to kick.

Touche.  Criticism is not somewhere outside and beyond the ‘great arc of disintegration and decay’ within which we live: if art undergoes the commodification of ‘late capitalism,’ so, inevitably, does critical theory.  Or perhaps, as I prefer to think, the parameters can be redefined.  In a recent essay on postmodernism for the Socialist Review, Charles Bernstein writes:

We can act: we are not trapped in the postmodern condition if we are willing to differentiate between works of art that suggest new ways of conceiving of our present world and those that seek rather to debunk any possibilities for meaning.  To do this, one has to be able to distinguish between, on the one hand, a fragmentation that attempts to valorize the concept of a free-floating signifier unbound to social significance… and, on the other, a fragmentation that reflects a conception of meaning as prevented by conventional narration and so uses this junction as a method of tapping into other possibilities available within language.  Failure to make distinctions is similar to failing to distinguish between youth gangs, pacifist anarchists, Weatherpeople, anti-Sandinista contras, Salvadoran guerrillas, Islamic terrorists, or US state terrorists.  Perhaps all these groups are responding to the “same” stage of multi-national capitalism.  But the crucial point is that the responses cannot be understood as the same, unified as various interrelated ‘symptoms’ of late capitalism.  Nor are the ‘dormant’ practices the exemplary ones that tell the ‘whole’ story."



From: Marjorie Perloff, “Avant-Garde or Endgame” in Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 14.

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