January 5, 2009

Spectres of Anti-Humanism

An excerpt from Gary Lain's "Ho Chi Minh at Spiral Jetty": 

Despite his poor health, Ho strides easily along the rough length of the stone-piled jetty. He’s spent a life time on the march. “It occurs to me, Mr. Smithson, that so much of the work of your Western avant-garde, in its fascination with deep, geological, ahistorical time, constitutes an attempt to operate outside the conceptual boundaries of Humanism, from the Renaissance though the Enlightenment.” 

“For the avant-garde,” Smithson replies, “the crisis of capitalism will not be mediated through intellectual discourse, but will be solved in the streets.” 

“Mr. Smithson, I appreciate your bravado, but history ends rather differently for me.” 

Yulia knows more about Smithson than she has any reason to reveal. He once wrote: The circles of power become more and more intangible as they move to the edge of nowhere. Crimes are committed for the ultimate goal of the state. Fictitious social structures uphold stupid hierarchies and protect the legal criminals. Unreality becomes a hard-nosed fact. In this fugitive ‘city’ of the crumbling world-mind, all solids tremble and seem about to disintegrate...The Establishment is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. 

Pointed social critique from this theoretically elusive figure whose art criticism often reads like an elaborate put-on. Yulia also finds Smithson’s spontaneous and unaffected deep regard for the President touching, if not uncommon. 

“Spiral Jetty is 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide and is composed of 6,550 tons of rock and earth. Construction costs totaled 8,000 dollars; the site was leased for 20 years at a cost of 100 dollars,” Smithson says as they reach the spiral’s tip. “Tell me, please, what you think?” 

Ho gazes over the red salt water, across the concentric bands of the jetty’s length as it crosses his line of sight. “I think it should be bigger,” Ho says.

 Smithson laughs, “You know, I get that a lot.”


Read the full text in the Fall 2008 issue of Fiction International. 

Also check out Gary Lain's video-and-text piece, "A Plague of Cities," at Locus Novus.

More on Robert Smithson here and here.

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