Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Head of a Dead Cat



Ah, Marcel Duchamp!  It seems he's not the messiah, but a very naughty boy.
"To a large extent, the art world today represents the institutionalization of Duchamp’s early-twentieth-century pranks. The great irony is that Duchamp intended not to extend the boundaries of art but to short-circuit the entire project of aesthetic delectation. “I threw the bottle rack and the urinal into to their faces as a challenge,” he noted contemptuously, “and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty.” Duchamp had the courage of his contempt. He gave up on art entirely and devoted himself to chess."

From: The New Criterion, Volume 32 March 2014, "But is it Art?"
The New Criterion has a pretty conservative (and, in this case, slightly misleading) take on art, but when, as increasingly does seem to be the case, the cynics and nihilists find themselves running the show and acting as gatekeepers -- deciding who gets to join the private In-Crowd party where exhibitions, book deals and funding are given away -- it's probably time for a little conservatism.

After all, you can only really go in for √©pater la bourgeoisie so long as you are scrupulous about keeping your own snout out of the bourgeois trough.  It's like parricidal sniping from the sidelines (such a satisfying activity when you're young): it has to stop, when you find you are the only father-figure left standing in the room.


When I was a young man, I invented (or came across) a formula that I considered very profound.  It went:
Nothing matters, therefore everything matters.  Everything matters, therefore nothing matters.
It's a delightfully ironic position, one where absurdity meets eternity, and the choice is always open between doing the right thing and staying in bed. Far out! When you're young, and life is a bewildering and exciting maze of choices, and you're standing at the entrance with your crisp, new, unclipped ticket, wondering which way to go, it's not a bad stance to take.  No hurry...

Forty years later, lost deep in the maze, and fully conscious that there really is only one way out of here, you find you're only too aware that choices have consequences, but also of the paradox that you are where you are because of the choices you have made and yet -- whatever choices you had made -- you would always have ended up here, and never there.  Perhaps it's time to sit down on a bench in the sun, fish that old mantra out of a deep pocket, and contemplate it again.


Mind you, I think Duchamp knew, or sensed, more than he was letting on.  Here's a story from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Paul Reps' collection of Zen teaching stories:
Sozan, a Chinese Zen master, was asked by a student: ‘What is the most valuable thing in the world?’
 The master replied: ‘The head of a dead cat.’
 ‘Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world?’ inquired the student.
 Sozan replied: ‘Because no one can name its price.’
As they say, if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.

10 comments:

Zouk Delors said...

Nothing matters etc
I told you to stay away from the brown acid!

Thanks for the invaluable koan. Did I mention that BC "is, and always has been" a Zen Buddhist?

Mike C. said...

Too late, too late... Though I find I'm more interested in antacids these days (I recommend magnesium trisilicate, necked straight from the bottle).

BC is, and always has been, a first-order fabulist, but that's an off-blog matter...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Mind you don't get gastric flashbacks from that tri-silicate.

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Ahh, age. We're now dealing with health. ACV, apple cider vinegar, made palatable with honey or maple syrup is a good cure for acid reflux, or at least back it off to manageable . A few cocktails a day, and though I keep the Tums handy, I can have a glass of wine, or eat something spicy without taking a Pepcid beforehand. In fact, I no longer use things like Prevacid or Pepcid, just tums and ACV.

Mike C. said...

Bron,

It's funny, how all these bathroom cabinet remedies have completely different names (though doubtless identical formulations) on different sides of the Atlantic.

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Mike, What do the English call ACV,water and sweetener? I haven't been able to find a consistent scientific answer as to why it would work, though I do believe. 8-)

It has more of an actual effect than that other ancient folk remedy for colds, tea, honey and whiskey. In the latter, we'll it just makes you feel better; thus a cure of sorts.

Mike C. said...

Bron,

We don't, as far as I know -- there is no cult of ACV in Britain. Some of our ciders can be a bit vinegary, but they are consumed by the pint, and make you fall over.

As a remedy for too much cider followed by a curry, we tend to eat chalk in various packaged forms, of which "Rennies" are the most popular. Most of us have childhood memories of "Milk of Magnesia", in its blue bottle.

Mike

Bronislaus Janulis / Framewright said...

Yes, there is a cult of ACV swillers here. Tums is a popular brand of flavored chalk tablets.

Being a "cultist", the ACV must be organic, and still contain the "mother". (Cult language).

Zouk Delors said...

Don't know if it has reached cult status, but you can definitely get "Organic Cyder Vinegar" here - Aspinall's is a popular brand - and I'm sure I've read somewhere that a spoonful of it in a glass of water is good for something. I find it goes down very well after a fatty meal. I'm not sure if Aspinall's contains the "mother" (which is presumably the bacterial culture which converts the alcohol to acetic acid?)

Zouk Delors said...

It also makes excellent vinaigrette - especially good on avocados.