--Sam O. Rolhds, dated November 16th, 2017
I recently found this poem in the shuffle of shitty credit card solicitations from the mysterious Sam O. Rolhds. Again, its esotericism has baffled me as well as the identity of this person—why do they know? How do they know of my interest in philosophy and poetics? What are they trying to say?
For one, I do like this poem—it says a lot for how succinct it is. First off we have to break down what this word—for it is a word—means and how it becomes a poem. First and foremost, this word is an enjambment of two words: Aesthetics (or aesthetic) and ascendance. How lovely. I understand aesthetics to mean the study of art or of the beautiful, perhaps even the sublime of art and of beauty. Ascendance means the state of ascending (above or beyond the current ‘plane’). So, in simple syllogistic fashion—this poem suggests that we rise above art, or it means we use art to rise above (the current ‘plane’). While this is a rather puerile interpretation (i.e., the syllogistic interpretation) it says more than merely the superficial. I don’t particularly like this interpretation since our consumerist culture is flooded with calls to use art to find fulfillment and to create to find a greater part of ourselves. More often than not, the only use of art and the fulfillment of self with it in a consumerist culture is to find art that is profitable. This assumes that there is value to art (a truism if I’ve ever heard or written one) but that art (hereafter, a production) must have value given to it. While we pleasure ourselves into thinking that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we have to wrangle with the fact that art is, likewise, a correlationist activity—meaning, the art must exist in order to behold and that one must be able to see it. This is how art is created: at the intersection of beholder and of artist. A production is fluid in this regard.
This is all find and good for aesthetic theory—in which I am by no means an expert—but the problem truly lies in how a production is exposed to beholders. If a production is not seen by anyone—a contentious argument; I will explain later—it cannot be art; it merely remains as a production. In an absolute sense, this is not true—a production still exists once it secures a material reality. However, when we think of ‘art’ we think of productions that have a consensus exposure to large groups of people. Art is a social mechanism for this reason—it creates social dynamics, but only if the social mechanism takes it up (an argument rooted solely in the quantities of people seeing it). Art is a numbers game. The point at which a production becomes ‘art’ is when enough people come to value this thing—and this is achieved by wide consumption of a production. While this does sound as though I am devaluing any inherent value a production may have—which, I am strictly speaking for the ‘inherent’ value of any production is that it exists, a quality given to any existent being (no novelty or points for merely existing)—consumerism enables productions to achieve more of an affective status in the (capitalist) social machine. Let’s be clear, I am not defending the consumerist means of distributing productions nor am I saying that capitalist consumption is the only way for productions to achieve the status of art—this is simply the only way we know how to give art any value anymore—in how many people see it. The social dynamic between art and the beholder (consumption, mass distribution) has completely changed the value we give to art—and how such value is endowed. In other words, only the fact that a production has wide, consensus viewership does it have value—if it is seen by enough people, then it is art.
Moreover, because a production is lifted to the heights of art by consensus consumption, it creates a kind of metaphysical state whereby its properties are ‘good’ since it adds value to the social dynamic—of being seen by many people before. It overcomes itself by being seen since people are defined by their social dynamic as well—diviners of art. By being the diviners of art (by consumption) we assume a heightened position in our society. Now, I don’t say this to mean that the consumption of art is a class issue—as in, those who can enjoy art have money for leisure activities. Rather, I mean to say that by consuming art (by whatever means, be it a floral coffee mug that say ‘hungover’ or throw pillows with those stupid owls on them) we believe it reflects on us as creative, heightened individuals. In other words, we decorate ourselves in productions to become ourselves an artistic production. Clothing becomes weird, styles become personalized (even though the most ubiquitous appendage nowadays looks either like an iPhone or an Android [which itself just looks like an iPhone—phony ergonomicism]) and we as individuals have a style made by those artifacts. In turn, we are not people but art beings. Mass-produced, consumer Art substitutes any actual personality, any actual creative process—it merely asks us to consume each other. The ascendant quality of consumer art is that we as humans are lost in our consumable appearance—we become something different entirely.
This poem is aware of this state—reduction of the production to its consumption—and of the transmutation of the concept of aesthetics overall in light of consumption. A la Moss, this poem takes a rather pessimistic view of salvaging the common and shared concept of aesthetics and decides to abandon it altogether. To do this, this poem seeks to defamiliarize the concept (and by extension, its application) of both aesthetics and ascendance (through art) and jamming them together. The fusional character of this new concept, “Aesthecendence” (ln. 1) is one that is aesthetic, beauty, but a beauty that is beyond its consumerist conception. This poem does not offer an answer to the consumerist culture and status of art, but rather asks us to consider productions as beyond simple consumption.
Can we ‘see’ art as their productions? What would this do to art? For art? Is this possible? If art is meant to consume, and its reality is only established as well as its value by consensus viewership, then how can we extricate it from the conditions which make possible its birth? Would we have to find the artistic impulse deep within ourselves? Would we have to create art without viewership incentive? Is the act of creation something individuals would find worthwhile?
These are questions I do not have the knowhow to answer at this time.