The veritable marble fortress of the Beinecke belies a revolution. Graphic prints hang from the glass tower as periodicals in display cases protest: VIVE LA RÉVOLUTION PASSIONÉE, REFORME LA SOCIÉTÉ — OUVRIERS, ÉTUDIANTS …

Directly confronting relics from a heroic past, the student of history is awestruck. Such tangible proof of protest, of real engagement, of action! The revival of the cultural avant-garde saw post-war generations of artists, writers and ultimately students forming Europewide networks. To make art and life “one,” they resuscitated the political practices of the Dadaists, the Futurists and the Surrealists. Culture, it was thought, could reorder society through change.

The avant-garde is a myth, and so are the legacies of their impact. The back story to the bravado of 1968 is unfulfilled expectations and social rupture. Ideology is often myth. Marxism, battered and much maligned, is near-dead in this institution today. Who even needs “an unselfish belief in the idea — something you can set up, bow down before and offer a sacrifice to?” Conrad’s Kurtz impales the heads of natives on his garden fence as artifice. With this ultimate perversion, he is the artist who sells all for a belief.

There is no use reviving old arguments, then. Positions are academic foibles, when ideals are colorful pictures in museum frames.

The manifesto is dead. It is reduced to poetry on paper, we analyze it for rhetoric and metaphor in literature class.

How then should the young artist make things, if he or she fears Belief?

To my astonishment, I find a scruffy rectangle of paper on the street. I read it hurriedly:

To put out a manifesto you cannot have: ABC

to fulminate against 1, 2, 3

to fly into a rage over words on a page is silly as fighting over black gold war in distant lands is positively nineteenth-century. Why shout sigh swear twit big words that don’t protest novelty is no longer unanticipated. We crucify our boredom with toothpicks and create convoluted riddles that baffle and do not intrigue. Dark small pants worn in dishevelled drunkenness decrepitude is more sign than index.

The love of modernity is a thing of the past: we hurtle now, children of the information age, headfirst into the hard cement of postmodernity.

A work of art should not be beauty in itself, for beauty is dead. And in celebration of this death we are now all solipsists. Nothing speaks for itself. Words are louder than actions.


Recognizing the disillusioned hand of the neo-Dadaist, I chuckle to myself. These silly pamphlets! They worked before in 1789, perhaps in the ’20s, not now! A fine waste of institutional funds — when you could be writing for the News.