Thermidor

© 2017 Thermidor Magazine.

Designed by Jonathan.

The Aesthetic Of The Counterrevolution

The “culture war” of Conservatism, Inc., has been an unmitigated failure. Attempts by the anti-abortion or anti-gay “rights” groups, however well intentioned, are a symbolic gesture. The battle was lost on those issues long ago. Legislation will not shift the culture, much less American morality. Andrew Breitbart’s quote, “Politics are downstream from culture,” appears often in conservative or far right publications on the Internet, yet it is unclear if anyone in this spectrum really understands what this means.

For far too long the right of any flavor neglects art of any kind. Both mainstream conservatism and alt right camps either neglect the long tradition of artists on the right or are interested only in their political writings (Ezra Pound comes to mind in this regard). The right wing tends toward overly rigid, Apollonian thinking, where overt politics and economics are the only things that matter. Art is something that is “liberal” that can be pushed off to the side. This is a grave error, one committed by Buckleyite conservatism after the Second World War and one the alt right appears all too willing to commit again.

The right is backward looking far too much for its own good. Ezra Pound, T.S. Elliot, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Knut Hamsun, Wyndham Lewis and others all deserve remembrance for their artistic achievements primarily. Ezra Pound was the greatest American poet of the twentieth century even if his reputation now has been tarnished. Wyndham Lewis’ Vorticism tried to reconcile painting with the dehumanizing machine of the Great War. At the same time, contemporary artists on the right in any capacity must be forward looking and offer something that can stand on its own merits.

In this sense, politics must be secondary. Self-consciously political art is always a failure. Yet, in the minds of some on the right, we should only read or view what affirms our preexisting prejudices. This is another mistake, given that good art does not necessarily correlate with someone’s political views. Kurt Vonnegut was a liberal, yet his novels are still very good and even show many of the absurd aspects of the post-WWII technocratic world which is so hated by the contemporary right.

Much of this has to with the complete lack of creative energy on the right, other than troll attacks on twitter and posting memes that is. These outbursts can be helpful, but they are only one step in pushing back against the hollow pop culture that animates Amerikwa's rigid corpse. What does complaining about the casting choices of bad movies accomplish, other than a cheap catharsis for your audience?

Insofar as right wing “art” does exist it is cathartic—hinging on pornographic in the sense of its function, not necessarily content. The most infamous examples are probably William Luther Pierce’s Turner Diaries or more recently Harold Covington’s Northwest Front novels. These books are not novels, they exist only to validate the reader’s presuppositions rather than tell a story.

Why this occurs on the right is not difficult to see. The Apollonian point of view, left unchecked, reduces everything to an equation. In this light art has no immediate utilitarian value so thus it is not seen as being important. Or, if an Apollonian were to see it as useful they view it solely as a political or social technology to achieve some distant (often utopian) end. All too often on right wing message boards the subject of arts quickly devolves into "how can we use this to red pill people." If this is a common assumption, then it may be good the world is ultimately spared from Kek Shrugged.

The knee-jerk reaction to Modernism and postmodernism displays another lack of understanding for art. To simply dismiss these two movements as "degenerate" without examining why they came about is the wrong way to look at them. Modernism, in particular, was an organic reaction first to a rapidly changing Europe at the turn of the century, then a reaction to the mass trauma of the Great War. While artists and their work can affect the culture, they are primarily "Attenae of the the Race" as Ezra Pound put it.

Much of Modernist art is ugly yet simultaneously true to its time. The paintings of Otto Dix capture the depravity of 1920s Berlin far better than a book or photograph can, thanks to Dix's surreal style. It's absurd to expect a perceptive writer or artist to simply adopt the styles and mores of the Renaissance because it satisfies a certain segment of the population. One cannot simply return to the photo-realism of the Early Modern period or the literary naturalism of the nineteenth century.

Postmodern artists promoted by major institutions do not aspire to higher values. Why would someone expect their art to reflect that? Again, these "works" like Tracy Emin's My Bed is not pleasing to look at and is "degenerate" in some sense, but it is true to the times we live in. A nihilistic artist will produce nihilistic work.

Now, artists on the right--or at the very least those that aspire to higher values--have an opportunity to make positive changes. Given the explosion in internet media and self-publishing options, the barrier to entry is incredibly low for anyone. Writers especially no longer have to appease the massive corporate publishing system to get a chance at having their book in print. Other media has a chance for wider dissemination online.

The other side to this is taking simple steps of building fellowship among artists and supporting sites like Thermidor and Casper Mag that offer a place for people working outside the mainstream. The small blogs now are not dissimilar to the "Little Magazines" the 1920s Left Bank in Paris. They too had small, eclectic readership and did not last very long. They did not make much money for their editors, who often relied on the patronage of someone wealthy. The immediate value of the little magazines was limited, but publications like BLAST, The New Age, and the Transatlantic Review provided outlets for a number of writers who went on to become major Modernist figures.

Artists on the right who want to see something better in the world of art and literature have never had it easier to create parallel institutions. It's time to start laying the groundwork for something better, rather than lay back and demand change from the lumbering, dying mainstream.

Or as Pound would say: it's time to make it new.