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Conservatism Against the Avant-Garde


Irina Ivanova, Daniil Kharms, 2016.

2,343 words

Some time ago, I resolved not to fall into old habits and immerse myself in Russian absurdist literature [2] while the world burned. I’m sad to report that as usual, I’ve failed in my resolution and spent the past weeks immersed in Russian absurdist literature. It’s an interesting period of Russian literature, one inextricably linked from the context of its time. One can hardly imagine that anything like OBERIU [3] existing anywhere outside of the early Soviet Union, outside of Russia. Of course, the absurdity that inspired their work eventually deemed them literary hooligans. Most of those involved with the Society for Real Art ended their lives in gulags and psychiatric hospitals. They were the last Russian avant-garde literary society. Everything after them was Socialist Realism and poems about the strength of Soviet industry, the valor of Soviet soldiers, and the wisdom of comrade Stalin. But from the standpoint of the erstwhile traditionalist, yeah, these guys could be called degenerate.

It may be strange to a newcomer to the Dissident Right, but one of the most basic redpills one takes when entering any variation of this thing of ours was “Stalin was a good guy” — for a given definition of good, that is. Now, apart from being very handsome in his youth, the number one thing ol’ Koba has going for him is that he’s not Trotsky, and furthermore, that a Soviet Union under Trotsky would have been many times worse than what it turned out to be under Stalin. While we always strive towards heroic ideals, we grade real men, historical or otherwise, on a curve. And Stalin, being if not a good guy, then at least better than Trotsky, reconstituted much of the old social structure [4] that was dissolved in the early Bolshevik period. This restoration led to the marginalization, exclusion, imprisonment, and eventual execution of avant-garde artists, including my own personal favorite, Daniil Kharms, who starved to death in a psychiatric hospital in 1942.

So, do I now repudiate my old literary hero? At one point, I described myself as having been created when my old self read a radioactive copy of Kharms’ Incidences [5]. My literary friends of the time considered Kharms a happy diversion, a hat they could wear when pretending to be more avant-garde than they really were, or when they pretended to be fighting a Stalinist Nazi regime while suspiciously absent from a gulag, or at least a psychiatric hospital, but not me. I couldn’t just play with Kharms. I had to read, and re-read him, and read the English and German translations, and finally get around to reading the original Russian, and try my own translations of it — even though, in keeping with the motif of the absurd, my Russian is risible to nonexistent. I, who decry learning by rote and any form of discipline, rigorously drilled and crammed into my head the works of this obscure Russian writer and started imitating his terse style in my own prose, his literary hooliganism in my poetry, which was always written with the intent to be spoken, not read. Predictably, I became very sexy among the literary scene, but only on occasion, when my literary friends needed someone outrageously arrogant and irreverent of established forms to decorate their social portfolio with.

Conversely, as Kharms before me, I was adept at annoying the established type of literatus whom I held and still hold in unmitigated contempt. I am referring, of course, to the type of author who holds a distinguished professorship, a membership in an official writers’ organization, and who knows all the right magic words, speaks with the proper inauthenticity, and has all the correct chronic diseases of the digestive system. As is usual in communist and post-communist nations, these people were products of the Academy of Arts and Sciences system where the arts were tightly controlled by a cabal of insiders so that they may not accidentally produce anything which might threaten the system. Any parallels to the Western model of decentralized Academy of Arts and Sciences are accurate, as both the centralized communist model and the distributed Western model are predicated on the arts (and sciences) as regime maintenance: artists and scientists functioning as storytellers who provide a fig leaf for the ruling regime’s naked illegitimacy. The word “stuffy” is applicable here, but these people hold vast power — the power to censor, the power to deem relevant and irrelevant, the power of the spotlight to be shined on and off, the purse strings of grants and awards. Kharms was excluded from the Soviet literary scene and persecuted by the forerunners of the stuffed shirts that frustrated my own literary ambitions. Now, obviously, I’ve never seen the inside of a gulag, so why am I complaining? And did we forget? There’s no room for degenerate art, no room for assault on the old forms, no room for the righteous aristeia of a young man bereft of all struggle finding meaning in the struggle against boredom with the help of a pun-spouting Zen master who hankers for green Zen beer.

Judged by the standards of its time and place, Stalinism is a conservative movement. The conservative has no patience for degenerate art and its assaults on the old forms. Indeed, he seeks to conserve, to maintain, so that he may pass on to the next generation. The avant-garde artist is someone who seeks out new forms, by necessity running from the old forms, sometimes holding them in such disdain that he applies the kerosene-and-bulldozers treatment to the old structure. We see gifted men, men who should, having been blessed with the aesthete’s discerning eye, know better, dissolve what was old and beautiful, hurling themselves as artistic suicide bombers against the supports of the cultural structure which gave birth to them.

But what if the old forms are just that – forms?


You can buy Greg Johnson’s Graduate School with Heidegger here [7]

Now, this is not one of those hippy-dippy “truth is outside of all patterns” kinds of anti-formalism. I recognize that forms are not bad. Forms are protocols, which when implemented, create results. Forms are liberating. Form is the best weapon against the tyranny of the blank page. I’ve always found it easier to write haiku or dactylic couplets than free verse because the definite form gives the artist focus, directing all energies into the essence of what is said. Forms come from the deep voice of a culture, from when it first burst upon the scene of world history, likely from a great founding figure who articulated that culture’s essence in a grand act of creation, thereby setting the example of the form in which that culture ought to be expressed. It is a protocol that can be used by subsequent artists to perpetuate that culture-voice without necessity of great artistic genius. I can pick up a pen and paper, or better yet, start speaking (poetry is always for the ears, not the eyes), and by relying on the poetic figures as tools, on rhythm, verse, metaphor, antithesis, et cetera, create technically flawless poetry that will speak with the ancient culture-voice of my people. 

But what if there is nothing left to say, or at least nothing worth hearing?

The foundational sin of conservative ideology is that it will fight to preserve the form long after the essence of what created the form has died away, that is, when not facilitating the murder of the essence in exchange for preserving the form. Thus, the violation of the form, necessarily done in public and with great pomp (how else should we do art?) gravely wounds the conservative’s sensibilities and conscience. It is nothing short of artistic hooliganism, or more accurately, rape. 

Tellingly, conservatism is a phenomenon in cultures that have, as per Emil Cioran, forgotten how to rape [8]. The avant-garde is the metaphorical rediscovery of rape and its application to the old forms. The perverse satisfaction of defiling straight-laced form-driven culture is related to the perverse satisfaction of defiling a chaste and honest woman (or so I’ve been told). Old culture has lost its vitality and locked the maiden body of art under countless layers of Victorian clothing, sealing away its sweet nectar. As Kharms the philosopher would say, it is improper for beer to remain in a stationary state and it is improper for a voluptuous young woman to be kept away from the traffic of life. It is therefore up to the pirates and brigands of the avant-garde to roughly rip through the bodice of the old forms and ravish the forgotten essence of culture, allowing for new life to be born.

If we’re looking for examples outside of art where the conservative fights to preserve the empty form while ignoring or destroying the essence, look no further than modern marriage. Marriage, having once meant the subjugation of untamed female nature by male authority to create children (essentially Lockean original appropriation of females) is now nothing but a means of draining men of resources and stripping them of dignity, retaining only its form of man, woman, and children. Whereas previously, man was king, vested with authority over women and children by almighty God, now we have trembling husband cautiously and frightfully leaving tribute at the feet of Her Majesty, Whaman. 

God, like the great patriarchs of the past, is nowhere to be seen, having been supplanted by the managerial state that rudely involves itself in marital matters, subverting the sovereignty of man-king under his own roof, humiliating him before his woman and children in ways the old European lords and monarchs never dared. But the conservative will wag his finger at young men who eschew this state of abject subjugation to women, and worse yet, will scream and yell and cry “degenerate [9]” whenever any young man attempts to subjugate women to his desires through the methodology of game and pick-up artistry. But the PUA following the base instinct to get his dick wet is more traditional than the conservative who defends the form of marriage while believing himself to defend traditional marriage. The PUA uses trickery to subjugate a woman and hew her will to his own, which is far closer to the essence of traditional marriage: subjugation of a woman and instilling in her obedience to a man’s will. The only thing separating the PUA from the old patriarch is his intent — to fuck women for pleasure rather than for making children. But then, the human hedonic treadmill being what it is, he will eventually feel a yearning for fatherhood which all men possess, and start using women for their God-ordained purpose. As the later Heartiste archives [10] reveal, a “degenerate” PUA, having already mastered the art of subjugating female will, is better equipped to become a trad dad than many trad dads who idolize the female and the form of marriage. If you want to be really trad, instead of putting a ring on her finger in the middle of a wheat field, put a baby in her belly and make her mend your socks.

The Stalinist regime was conservative, and so it couldn’t understand the necessity for the avant-garde. Much of the avant-garde was wankery, but much of any genuinely creative endeavor is wankery. The trick is to find the artistic genius lurking among the wankers. The West is now at a stage where all worth conserving has been lost and the old forms are now monstrous because they’ve lost their essence and become lies. The Dissident Right is, for the time being, the political avant-garde, plying our disruptive trade against the old forms. When the establishment conservatives deign to notice us, their attacks usually consist of pointing out that we’re working on dissolving the old forms. 

This is true and we should own this charge. 

We are the degenerate artists, we are the literary hooligans pouring acid into the works. We should not, however, become those conservatives by mindlessly venerating the forms of the past. Trad LARPer is an effective insult because trad LARPing is such a mindless veneration of the old form. If we are going to, as the meme says, RETVRN to tradition, we ought to RETVRN to the essence of tradition, such as the aforementioned PUA subjugating a woman. In the political sense, I am often accused of being a tribalist, i. e. considering good what is good for my tribe, process and order be damned. I admit to being such a tribalist. I owe no allegiance to any particular ideology or method, merely to my people. If the methods of deconstruction and avant-garde help my people, so be it.

As a final, personal note, I will add that I’ve not created any art in a long time. For reasons known to Him, God has chosen to take my voice away. Perhaps I was indulging my wankery too much, perhaps He thought my talents would be put to better use as a political writer and activist. I’ve certainly approached my own political career as I would performance art, the kind of outrageously pompous and innovative show I used to put on for people who may or may not have wanted to see it. While you may have different opinions about the nature of art, I see all artists, myself included, as instruments of God, the ultimate creator. When God dispatches his instruments to deconstruct the old forms, it tells us something about His plan for that culture. And here the conservative once again fancies himself tragic, but is ultimately pathetic. 

Standing athwart history and yelling “Stop!” turns out to be a stubborn, yet thoroughly despicable, act of defiance against God.

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